I think of planet Earth as a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces. Some pieces fit nicely together and others not so well. In order for us to have a good planet Earth, all of the pieces must fit together. The pieces are things like jobs, valuing religious freedom, sufficient housing, protecting families, dealing with climate change, eliminating violence and having access to a K-12 education. Some still have rough edges. How do we eliminate violence and poverty? How do deal with climate change? When we smooth out the edges of these pieces so they fit we will have a better planet.

We all value education and hope that young people not only in the United States, but in the world, have the opportunity to go to school. One of the seven sacred teachings of Native Americans is the quest for wisdom and knowledge. We want everyone to have wisdom and that comes from a lifelong journey for knowledge.

Education is the panacea to help smooth out the pieces in our planet Earth jigsaw puzzle. For example, more education for young people means they will likely find a better job. A better job means better housing and this helps to eliminate homelessness. With more education a person is more likely to have children who seek a better education. The end result is that we make better decisions with more knowledge and greater wisdom.

In order to put together our jigsaw puzzle, we need all hands on deck. We need the brain power of 100 percent of our young people. I reference young people because all of the issues we face today will largely be solved by our younger generation.

When a person leaves school early, formal education has pretty much ceased. He or she can continue to earn a GED diploma, which is just fine, but too many young people just stop learning. There are, obviously, many reasons for this but it behooves all of us to ensure that 100 percent of our youth graduate. Enter Beltrami County.

We have close to 300 businesses and organizations that now support a movement to graduate 100 percent of our young people. This is good, it’s exciting, it’s bold, it’s innovative, it’s something that all people in Beltrami County should take pride in. We are the only county in the United States that has such a lofty goal of 100 percent. I am waiting for the first billboard to go up announcing this.

As I have said on many occasions, schools are doing their job to fulfill this goal. But after decades of trying, it just hasn’t happened. To accomplish the goal, the entire community has to do their part, too. We all can do more.

Schools can do more. For those kids that leave school early, a different educational alternative would help. Why not, for example, have educational alternatives where kids work on cars and trucks and ATV’s? The entire curriculum would be integrated into mechanics. It could be modeled after construction programs, which already exist in many schools. Why not have an educational alternative where kids work around forests and lakes? Why not an educational alternative where kids work in the area of film making and videos and publishing? Why not an educational alternative where kids start their own business? Why not an educational alternative that is non-graded? Why not an educational alternative where there are no required classes, no letter grades, where the curriculum is truly based on the needs of the students and progress is demonstrated by students accomplishing individualized goals?

The reason why public charter schools have become popular in Minnesota is because they provide a different educational alternative and because of this, more kids have graduated. This does not mean that our traditional programs do not serve a need, they do. In fact the majority of our students graduate from traditional schools and will always do so.

All of those educational alternatives I mentioned take time and a willingness on the part of the educational community to delve into them. They also take teachers who would be willing to start a bold new experiment with kids. Until that happens, what do we do in the meantime to help put together our jigsaw puzzle?

I am going to use an example of someone who came to my house to sell me gutters. His name is Craig Pehrson and he owns and operates DL Seamless Rain Gutters. He has offices in Bemidji and Grand Rapids. He is successful, he works hard. He knows the value of education.

So here we are in my driveway at 5:30 in the evening talking not about gutters, but about how to graduate our young people. Now you would think that someone selling gutters couldn’t care less about something that should be a sole concern of the educational establishment. But, on the contrary, Craig could see the connection between kids fulfilling their educational goals and what goes on in the community. Obviously, the more kids that graduate, the better jobs they will have, the more money they will have and the greater the likelihood that someday they will be looking for someone to sell them some gutters for their house just like I was.

After we finished having this conversation and Kathy was wondering why I didn’t come in to eat her potato salad that she hadn’t made in over a year, the last words Craig said to me were, “I will help spread the word.”

That’s it. All we need to do is relentlessly spread the word to young people that they need to finish school and if we can do this in Beltrami County, we can do it anywhere. You see, it is a grand experiment and it doesn’t cost millions and millions of dollars or even thousands of dollars or even a dollar out of your pocket. Everyone can say, “Don’t forget to graduate” and say it again and again.

By the way, I did buy the gutters and I have every faith in Craig and you, too, to spread the word.

Riddle: What is purple and crazy? (A grape nut.) I don’t think we are crazy to expect 100 percent of our youth to graduate.

100 percent graduation

Thanks to DL Seamless Gutters, Blackduck Fitness Center, Culver's and the Seventh Day Adventist Thrift Center, for being the most recent to support 100 percent. We can help kids graduate when we:

  1. Tell them what to expect in high school.
  2. Advocate educational alternatives.
  3. Remind young people that we expect them to graduate.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.