There will be many happy faces on young people as they drive by or march across the stage to be handed their high school diplomas. They will feel euphoric because they accomplished one huge goal in their life. What a big moment for them and their families. Yes, indeed, it is a happy time for educators and for the whole community.
Now let’s talk about those young people who did not graduate but who may have put in 11 or 12 years of school. Put yourself in their shoes. This is kind of like working for more than a decade thinking that you will get a paycheck at the end of your time and then come to find out, it’s not there. You won’t get it. You may never get it. Is the word "devastating" strong enough to describe the feelings of a young person who decided to leave school early without the diploma?
Some will say, "Well, it’s their own fault. If you want to collect your dime you have to put in the time." Yes, I can understand that. Those who graduated did put in their time. Why didn't those who didn’t graduate put in the time?
Project Graduate and its goal of 100% does not mean lowering standards or handing out diplomas. What it does mean is that educators should go beyond the call of duty to ensure that every student is finding success even if it means creating new programs and, yes, even creating new schools that fit the way kids learn.
We have religious institutions that fit the needs of many different people. We can choose the one we like. The one room schoolhouse teacher had to adapt to provide personalized instruction for 20 to 30 kids who might be at eight different grade levels. Grocery stores and restaurants specialize in certain foods to accommodate the needs of their customers. Auto repair shops specialize and we choose the one who we feel best suits us. It may just be the fact that we like the owner. Choice is the key word in our society but much less so in schools.
What about today's K-12 schools? Are they more alike or are they more different than one another? I am sorry to say they are quite a bit like the school I went to 60 years ago. Periods, schedules, requirements, textbooks, desks, bulletin boards, cafeterias, hallways, clocks, bathroom breaks, report cards, vacation times, nine-month school year, graduation in May or June. There are some differences regarding technology but on the whole, they are pretty much the same. I might add, we are still trying to graduate "all" of our students and we are not doing too well considering that every student is capable of graduating.
I know many educators feel remorse for those students who didn’t graduate and we should. After all, it’s our job to serve kids and if they aren’t being served, what are we here for? We need to do things differently. Don’t kids have to pull their own weight? Yes, indeed, but in too many cases we try to fit kids into boxes like classrooms when the box just doesn’t fit them. Believe it or not, for many kids it’s painful to go to school.
We should create new and different schools to accommodate those students who are not finding success. Why can’t we take a vacant building and turn it into an imaginary school of the future? By doing so we would help lots of kids and increase the overall graduation rate. I am confident you could find many teachers willing to create such a school. Talk about an exciting opportunity.
If you don’t like the idea of creating a unique kind of school, consider these 10 ways to increase graduation rates at no cost.
1. Have every student beginning in fourth grade sign a pledge to graduate. Renew the pledge every year.
2. If you have 50 ninth-graders, follow those ninth-graders closely for the next four years and do whatever it takes to ensure that all are around when they become seniors.
3. Every teacher should relentlessly remind students from early on, that their No. 1 goal in school is to graduate.
4. Like Bemidji and all cities in Beltrami County, every city council should support a 100% graduation rate initiative and encourage all businesses to do the same.
5. Every school should have as their goal a 100% graduation rate. It should be conspicuously noted on newsletters, signage, electronic marquees, posters and so on.
6. Every teacher needs to realize that regardless of the grade level they teach, graduating 100% of the students is everyone’s responsibility.
7. Teachers should teach every child as if they were their own.
8. The community and school should work in partnership to ensure that a 100% graduation rate becomes a mindset not only for students but also for the citizens.
9. People need to believe that graduating 100% of our students can be done.
10. Students need to understand that we will never give up on them.
Graduating from high school is a huge deal. We need to work harder at ensuring that all young people experience this magic moment.
(I failed to mention in last week’s column that there are three Lions Clubs in Bemidji: Bemidji Lions, First City Lions and the BSU-NTC Club. We thank them for their service.)
Riddle: Divide 20 by 1/2 and add 3. What is your answer? (Answer: 43) If you said "13" you have to remember that in life, the seemingly correct answer isn’t always correct. This is why we need new approaches to helping 100% of our kids graduate.
Thanks to the Bemidji City Council and Mayor Prince for signing a proclamation for making May 23-29 "100% high school graduation week in the city of Bemidji."
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.