Did you know that every community and school in Minnesota has a magic number? The magic number is the size of the ninth grade class. If there are 100 students in ninth grade, that’s the magic number. If there are 50 students in ninth grade, that’s the magic number. Why? If those 100 or 50 students graduate four years later, the graduation rate is 100%. If only half that number graduates, the graduation rate is 50%. Calculating the graduation rate is a bit more complicated than that, but that’s pretty much how graduation rates are determined in Minnesota and in most other states.
Every citizen should know the magic number. Why? Because knowing the magic number has much to do with the health of a city. It’s kind of like taking its temperature. The higher the graduation rate, the healthier the community in almost every category like employment, longevity, citizen involvement, reduced crime and number of people voting.
Just knowing the magic number is not enough. Everyone has to work hard to ensure those 50 students graduate and this begins with the educators who, along with parents, are on the frontline. It also includes every citizen. In other words, we all share in the responsibility of making the magic number a reality.
Every teacher, regardless of grade level, should be aware of that magic number and every year high school teachers should know if all of those 50 ninth graders stay enrolled. If a student is missing, they should ask, “What happened to him or her?” Another question they should ask is, “What more can we do to ensure that our 50 ninth graders stay enrolled?”
Teachers in grades K-8 have a responsibility of preparing the students so they are ready to take on the more pressing requirements of high school, namely, earning credits. If I were a third grade teacher, for example, I would watch my students to see how they were doing from grade level to grade level. If all of them graduated, I would give myself a pat on the back. If some of them didn’t graduate, I would ask myself, “What more could I have done?”
Here is a list of “more things” teachers can do.
1. Have each student sign a pledge to graduate that is co-signed by the parent. This is easy to do. Do it every year and bring it out during every parent-teacher conference.
2. Have each student develop a Plan of Action that they will implement and that will guide them during the year. Consider it like a plan that a coach develops for each of the players on his or her team.
3. Have each student dedicate the year to someone they respect and admire. We do better when we do things for someone we respect.
4. Have each student become familiar with the Seven Sacred Teachings of Native people. These teachings are appropriate for any student regardless of ethnicity or religion. They represent a moral compass to leading a good life. One of the teachings is “Wisdom.”
5. Have students organize into teams of four or five for the purpose of helping one another. The teams will arrange to meet on a regular basis. It could be during homeroom or during a given class. The point is, we learn more and do more when we have others holding us accountable and supporting us.
6. Have each student turn in a weekly goal sheet and progress form on their school work. Every student should have a weekly goal that is derived from their action plan.
7. Have students regularly discuss the why’s and how’s of completing high school and the value of pursuing some form of higher learning. Graduating from high school must become a learned mindset.
8. Have each student apply to a college of their choice. Consider pursuing some form of higher learning is an expectation that we have for all students.
9. Keep parents actively engaged. This is why the parents’ phone number is so important when making “good news” calls in this COVID-19 era.
10. Have each student select a personal mentor from the community in which they live. Let the student take the initiative in this.
11. Have each student mentor a younger sibling, relative or friend.
12. Have students identify what they do well in school and what they don’t do well in school. If they had to create a school that could better meet their needs, what would it be like? All of this input is important if teachers wish to personalize education for their students.
14. Have each student identify a dream or purpose in life that they aspire to be or do.
15. Have each student evaluate their own progress and then decide what the next steps he or she should take.
16. Have each student identify people in their life who want them to stay in school and graduate.
17. Have each student complete an “Attendance Commitment” statement to be signed by parent and principal.
Accomplishing the magic number will be dependent upon teachers doing something extra. Teachers could say, “Where do I find the time to do any of these.” Teachers need to remember two things. First, for every student who drops out of school, the school loses about $14,000 or more. Second, the No. 1 goal of education is to graduate every student. Even if teachers did just a few of the 17, this would help. Parents could select three or four others to do at home.
During the past several months you have read about individuals in my column who have struggled in school and dropped out, but then bounced back to create a good life for themselves. You have read other stories about individuals whose parents or grandparents instilled in them value of education. They overcame struggles in their life to graduate from high school and go on to college.
All of those individuals I interviewed had one thing in common. They had hope for themselves and they never gave up. The foundation for whatever we do with students to help them graduate rests on the hope we instill in them and the expectations we have for them.
Struggling students can and will rise to the level that it takes to graduate when we believe in them and give them all the support they need as well as guide them during those critical four years of high school. I listed 17 activities teachers and parents can do. We could list 100 more. The point is because a 100% graduation rate continues to elude us, we need to do more, a lot more, to make our magic number come true.
Riddle: When is a cat more likely to enter a house? (Answer: When the door is open.) Often the most challenging problems are achieved by simple solutions. What if every student had to sign a pledge to graduate each year beginning in kindergarten?
Find out the magic number in your community and every once in a while, ask educators how they are doing to make that number a reality. Thanks to the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Board for being the 403rd organization to support the 100% initiative.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.