At North Tapps, graduating eighth graders say goodbye to their local school district and each other

Eighth grade graduation can be a bittersweet rite of passage for any student preparing to enter high school. But at North Tapps Middle School in Lake Tapps, it’s even more so.

The Dieringer School District doesn’t have a high school, so kids who have been classmates for up to nine years have to scatter after the eighth grade.

The 180 North Tapps students who will graduate Friday (June 12) plan to attend a total of 11 different high schools in the fall.

“Our families love having choices,” Nate Salisbury, principal of North Tapps, said. “But when you’re in the thick of it, choosing a high school can become very difficult and even a little stressful.”

Corbin Bender, 14, chose Sumner High School for its International Baccalaureate program and its band program. He’s nervous to leave Dieringer schools and realizes that he probably won’t see his friends as much.

“Most of my friends feel the same as me,” Corbin said. “But it’s preparing us for things like choosing a college. We won’t be able to bring all our friends with us to college.”

Corbin’s family lives in Enumclaw, but he transferred into the Dieringer district because of its reputation for academically rigorous schools.

His mom, Celia, says they knew that Corbin would eventually have to transfer again for high school. She thinks the lack of an automatic option for high school is a gift because it forces parents to really evaluate the best fit for their child.

“It’s a little bit freeing,” Celia said. “They get first preference and placement because other districts know there’s no high school in Dieringer.”

Dieringer helps the students choose by organizing High School Night every January. Representatives of several public and private high schools show up to give North Tapps students information about their schools.

Most North Tapps eighth-grade graduates end up at Auburn Riverside, Sumner, Bonney Lake and White River high schools. Salisbury said students benefit by getting to choose from among schools with different specialties.

“If we were a high school, because of our small size, we would not be able to offer all of these programs that these other high schools offer us,” Salisbury said.

Corbin’s friend, Tyler Allbritton, won’t be following him to Sumner. Tyler is headed instead to Raisbeck Aviation High School in Tukwila. Jagur Swepston, who plays alongside Tyler and Corbin in the middle school band, is also going his own way: to Auburn Riverside.

Jagur, 14, said he is sad to leave most of his friends but is excited for a fresh start. He plans to enter the honors programs and the electronics and robotics club at Auburn Riverside.

“Friends weren't a major factor (in his decision),” said his mom, Kerie. “They are his friends but they knew they had to chose one based on their own criteria.”

For some North Tapps students, eight grade graduation is not the end of their connection to the school and each other. Salisbury said a group of North Tapps alumni got together last summer for a 20-year reunion, at which they raised $1,500 and several hundred pounds of food for the middle school’s food drive.

“What we see is, like a high school, people are going to go their own way, but a lot of people keep in touch,” he said.