Advocating for Our Children

I went to an event at my daughter’s school last night. It is a program called CPEO, which stands for Connecting Parents to Educational Opportunities. It is a seven week series where we’ll be given tons of information on supporting our kids through Middle School and into High School, helping to get them “College Ready.”  I think it will be informative for me, as I never graduated from High School so I never went through the graduation process, the applying for colleges, touring colleges, taking ACTs and SATs and all that that entails – I want to make sure I know as much about it as possible to help my girls through the process. To support them, to engage with their teachers and to advocate for them if necessary.

It was, however, a little discouraging. Out of EVERYONE at my daughter’s Middle School – only 12 people signed up for the program.  There is a crisis occurring in my daughters’ school district and yet only 12 parents from this school thought it was important to come discuss ways to make sure their kids don’t end up a statistic?  I have known various numbers for a while. I know that there is a strong correlation between kids who are behind in 3rd grade being an indicator of those who will end up some day in our prison system. I know that the district has a significantly lower graduation rate than the state or national average (76% nationally and 77% state), and that there is an alarming gap when you break those numbers down racially. But, once your child is in that system and on her way to four of the most important years of her life, it becomes so much more real.

Our district’s graduation rate is around 50% (they say it was 50.1% last year, but most recent data is at 46.9%). That means that roughly half or more of our students are not getting a diploma in four years, that is astonishing to me!  Compare that to our sister city of St. Paul, which has a 66.7% graduation rate (still below the state and national average but considerably better) and you wonder – what is wrong with us? What isn’t being done? What can I do?  Sure, if you look at my daughters they likely have a better chance than 50/50 to graduate. If you break down the numbers, the graduation rate for white students is closer to 80% which is higher than the state average (and, oddly enough, even higher than the state average for white students – so why are white students doing better in our district than in the state as a whole, but students of color are doing significantly worse?).  Also, the High School that my daughter is trying to get into has a 79.7% graduation rate. However, the school she will default to if she cannot get in only has a 52.3% graduation rate.

Last night I was reminded of a few other things. One of the things I remembered and saw so clearly is that many of us as parents want BETTER for our kids than we had. I did not do things the right way; I dropped out of High School, I had kids when I was young, I struggled to get a 2-year degree after they were born and have struggled to keep my head above water financially their entire lives. I don’t want them to do the same. I have talked to them since birth about college as a continuation of their mandatory schooling, I have never spoken of it as optional. I have shown them graphs like we saw last night that show the huge gaps in salary attainment between those without a H.S. diploma, those with one, those with a 2-year degree, 4- year, master’s, professional degree and doctorate as well as the huge gap in unemployment rates amongst all of those education levels. They know that if they want their hopes and dreams to come true – that they must work hard to get there. But I cannot foresee all of the obstacles that may come up along the way, I can only commit to be there and to support them in overcoming them.

I have also read a lot recently about the literacy rate in this country. That there is a huge segment of the population who are functionally illiterate. Last night I believe I met one of those people. Her and her daughter just moved here from down south. Her daughter is the youngest of 5 daughters. This woman was very talkative and you could tell really wanted her daughter to do well. Her daughter was actually with her and filled out the form we had to fill out and turn in before the end of the session. When this woman and I paired up to do an ice breaker, I felt like I suddenly reverted back to when my girls were young and I was teaching them how to read, write, and spell.  We had to gather some basic information about each other; names, names of kids and what schools they went to and then something about their family that made them unique. We were one of the last ones done only because I had to spell out nearly everything for her. She isn’t a new immigrant, just learning English. She was born and raised speaking English, yet could not spell very simple and basic words. It both broke my heart and gave me hope at the same time. Here was a woman who I don’t know a ton about, but who it would seem slipped through the cracks and somehow made it to adulthood without a very basic skill – and that must make life very difficult. Yet here she was, with her youngest daughter, trying to make sure she gets all the information she could to help her graduate on time. So although I was a little disheartened by the low turnout and bad statistics, I was hopeful and inspired by the men and women who were in that room, whom all want a brighter future for their kids. Now lets advocate for our children and make sure our district is doing what it needs to do to educate them, while remembering that it starts at home. Afterall, parents ARE the first teachers.


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