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We Must Tell Our Students WHY

By Ruvine Jiménez, Community Organizer, Pasco Field Office

Pasco Student Roundtable - League of Education VotersSince there was no public school on May 25th, 2018, League of Education Voters hosted a student roundtable with legislators serving the greater Tri-Cities region. Senator Sharon Brown and Representative Larry Haler from the 8th district, and Representative Bill Jenkin from the 16th district joined 35 students from the Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland School Districts to have lunch and participate in community café-style conversations.

It was touch-and-go whether the luncheon would happen, because legislators are busy (and there’s always the possibility of a state emergency coming up) and because you never know if students will actually attend, even when good food is promised. Students are probably the busiest of us all – trying to juggle school, sports, jobs, homework, and family life. Some students are also dependent on others for transportation. That makes events even more difficult to plan!

So if everybody is so busy and the roundtable could wind up being a non-event, is it worth going through all that trouble? Yes, Yes, Yes, YES!

35 students of different ethnicities and backgrounds rarely have the opportunity to get together with caring adults eager to hear about their high school and beyond plans. Here were the student demographics:

Middle School: 2 students                       9th Grade: 3 students

10th Grade: 1 student                              11th Grade: 23 students

12th Grade: 6 students

Pasco Student Roundtable, Part 2 - League of Education VotersIn our community café table groups, we asked the following questions of students:

  • What is your favorite class of all time and why?
  • What do you want to do after high school?
  • Do you know what classes you need to get there? If so, who helped you, and how did they help? If you don’t know, to whom can you talk to figure it out?
  • Does your school help you create a plan that gets you to graduation and the future? (2-year, 3-year, 4-year plan) Who helps you with your plan?
  • Do you know what classes you need to graduate? If so can you list them?
  • This fall, new graduation requirements are being implemented across the state. Have you heard of this? What are your thoughts?
  • What would you change in your school?

After each question, we gave students and legislators from each table the opportunity to report out and engage in large group discussion.

Most of the students want to continue their education and either attend a community college or 4-year university. Unfortunately, many of the students did not know the classes they need to get them there. Resources that some of the students were using to help them were GEAR UP, TRIBE, the Kennewick School District Career Center, Running Start, the Tri-Tech Skills Center, and some high school counselors, but it was also noted that these resources help students with high school credits and not so much with beyond. Students are also reaching out to their siblings, parents, friends’ parents or grandparents, and teachers.

Pasco Student Roundtable, Part 3 - League of Education VotersThe most heated conversation was around the 24 credit requirement. For example, one student was concerned that students are currently not graduating with a 21 or 20 credit requirement, so why move it to 24 credits? In the student’s mind, that means more students are not going to graduate. Another student suggested that instead of requiring 24 credits to help students become college and career ready, make the courses harder (more rigorous curriculum) so that when they are tested, students can pass placement tests for college and/or career opportunities.

Between League of Education Voters State Field Director Kelly Munn, SOMOS Educational Institute Founder Rolando Rodriguez, and me, we explained how 60% of graduating seniors are currently placed in remedial classes when they take their placement tests for community colleges. Therefore, the basis for the 24 credit requirement is for students to be better prepared for college and/or career instead of having to pay for remedial classes for coursework they can do for free in high school.

The 24 credit requirement has not been established to help students fail – it is to help them be better prepared to fulfill their goals after graduating from high school

The 24 credit requirement has not been established to help students fail – it is to help them be better prepared to fulfill their goals after graduating from high school. Washington state has a surplus of jobs that cannot be filled by students graduating from Washington schools, businesses have to hire people from out of state, and unfortunately, our students are taking the service jobs which our society needs to run smoothly, but do not generally pay a family-sustaining wage.

A majority of the students did not know why the credit requirement was increased, which leads to my theory that we as adults keep shoving education policy down our children’s throats without letting them know why. When our kids learned the word why when they were 2- or 3-years-old, how many times did you hear them question WHY? It was not because they were being obstinate; it was because they were curious and trying to understand WHY.

As our kids grow, we say education is a way out of poverty, but we don’t always tell them how, or to whom to go to find out how. My theory is if we start telling students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade WHY, they would become more engaged and take personal ownership of their education. These students are smart! They need our help to know WHY, and they need us to provide the resources they need to accomplish their goals.

For example, at a recent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) luncheon with regional STEM state partners, I saw data that showed how much a student with no high school diploma, a high school diploma, a 2-year, and a 4-year postsecondary education would earn. I also learned where job growth will be in the next five years. I let the presenters know we need to share this information with our students.  We are often shown this information, but we rarely pass it along to our students because we treat them like second-class citizens.

Want to change outcomes for students and help them become more interested in their education? We need to share information with students in the 6th grade so that they can see the end goal in mind and understand WHY they are attending school, especially when they have the potential to be the first high school or college graduate in their household. WHY? To improve the quality of your life and that of your potential family, and because you can do it!

 

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