Pomp and Circumstances

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Julie Sharpe with husbands and sons at HS graduation

Whether we’re honoring our Veterans, marking the beginning of summer, or celebrating transitions as students graduate or move to the next grade level, one thing is clear—Memorial Day weekend evokes so many mixed emotions. It’s a bittersweet weekend for me. Our youngest son graduated from high school on Saturday and relatives are gathering from near and far to honor the occasion.

But I also got to thinking that this weekend is uneventful for so many families because their kids—who should have been part of the class of 2013—didn’t cross the dais with their classmates.

Earlier this week the Georgia Dept. of Education released the 2012 high-school graduation rates. Overall Georgia showed some progress, with the graduation rate rising to just under 70 percent, up two points from 2011. While the overall rate is up, too many of our students are still not doing well. Fourteen urban and rural school systems located in areas where the poverty rate is much higher than the rest of state had graduation rates below 60 percent.

Circumstances do matter.

Our son is fortunate. He’s graduating from one of the best high schools in the state, North Oconee High School. His high school has a large variety of AP classes, state-of-the-art technology, highly skilled and educated teachers, and highly engaged parents. Not all students have the same opportunities. Class size, the variety of instructional offerings, professional development for teachers, length of school year, local property digest, access to technology, and local leadership all are variables that impact a student’s education.

I spent a day this week conducting focus groups with 30 10th-grade students in a STEM program at Tift County High School. They’re part of a Race-to-the-Top Innovation Grant funded by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. A partnership between the local school system and Moultrie Technical College has created a Mechatronics Career Pathway. The grant has funded state-of-the-art equipment, field trips, summer STEM camp, family STEM nights, and opportunities that other Tift County students don’t get to experience. The students participate in the program for three years and receive technical college credit as well as a high-school diploma upon graduation. The students are thriving and said this was the best learning experience they’ve ever had because it’s hands-on. They fixed cell phones, repaired the disco ball for the school show choir (The show did go on!), upgraded and repaired their families’ computers and formed two robotics teams. One student is very popular—he repairs Xboxes for students at the school for free. The Tift County High-School graduation rate for 2012 was 81 percent, a good rate in south Georgia. The students in the Mechatronics program are on track to have a 100-percent graduation rate.

So as we honor our Veterans, head to the beach, or celebrate with students graduating from high school and college, let’s remember that our students are not failing. We’re failing our students. Circumstances matter. Because without the right circumstances there can be no pomp.