Teacher's Desk: Grads but Barely

May means seniors looking forward to impending graduation, and we teachers looking forward to no more of their “senoritis.” Maturity blooms at last; what a relief! The sad thing is for me, that many of our graduating seniors are 19, 20, and 21 years-old. While their peers are finishing up their sophomore or junior year of college, these students are just now graduating high school.

I’m glad our students returned to school after dropping out, being expelled, or incarcerated. I agree with Jeremy Myer’s report in Sunday, May 17th’s Denver and the West Section of the Denver Post regarding the state website, collegeincoloradot.org, a website developed after legislation to help students plan for post-secondary options. Too many middle school students enter high school totally clueless as to why they are there or what they need to do. Our returning dropouts are no different.

This past week, I developed four Individual Educational Plans and assessed eight senior presentations. All had the same common future goals: cosmetologist, justice career, culinary arts, or massage therapy. I’m saddened that there weren’t plans to be doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers or scientists. They dreamed no further than their comfort zone and experiences allowed them.

When I worked in the middle school classroom as a Gear-Up counselor several years ago, I too was surprised that middle school students hadn’t thought about what happens after high school, and didn’t know what a student needs to do to earn a high school diploma.

High school students learn a harsh reality: teachers don’t give grades---students earn them and the credits to graduate. Social promotion stops at high school. I made it a point to make sure the middle school and high school students I influenced understood what it takes to graduate and that they became part of the goal-setting process. I made sure they learned how to calculate a G.P.A. Even though I work with students 16 and older now, I’m still helping them learn these lessons.

I worry about our graduates; too many struggled to make our minimum benchmark, eighth grade literacy. These are the students that if they do attend college (all our seniors are accepted into a post-secondary institution or program), they will be part of the third of all college students needing remediation before taking 100 or greater level courses in college.

We have a tremendous task upon us every year at our school: improve students’ academic circumstances, students who are four or more years behind grade level. We prepare them for high school graduation and beyond in one or two years. Our school improvement committee continues to weigh which best practices will be the best to meet our challenge.

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator at Colorado High School Charter with an M. A. in Educational Leadership and is a former candidate for the Colorado State Board of Education.