Why Did the Student Cross the Stage? To Get a Diploma!

A variation on an old riddle:

Q: Why did the 20 year-old young man who had no choice but to quit school a few credits shy of graduation so he could work two jobs as the only breadwinner in his household cross the stage?

A: To get the diploma he earned by completing his coursework in online academic support labs while keeping his job[s].

On Saturday morning, the annual search and rescue mission known as the Graduation Walk (formerly Reach Out to Dropouts) hit the streets of Des Moines for the fifth time and cast a wider net than ever before to re-engage not only students who have officially left school somewhere short of the finish line, but also to reach kids who’ve veered off-course and fallen behind in credits and get them caught up before it’s too late.

Perfect weather greeted a determined force of DMPS staff and community volunteers nearly 300 strong that included Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. It proved to be an omen of the successes they achieved after fanning out across the district to round up strays and bring them back into the fold.

Also participating were representatives from the International Visitor Leadership Program arranged by the Meridian International Center. The visitors are learning effective ways of dealing with the same problem in the Caribbean and were invited by the U.S. State Department.

The volunteers were divvied into 87 teams and altogether they knocked on 782 doors, a record number of home visits since under-credited students were targeted as well as actual dropouts. Not everyone was home, in which case a door-hanger was left to explain who’d been there and why, along with some contact info. But the troops did have 391 conversations and preliminary numbers indicate that 111 kids have scheduled follow-up appointments to explore alternative pathways to the all-important diploma, many that either weren’t available or students were unaware of when circumstances beyond their control or mistakes they figured were irrevocable forced them to drop out in the first place.

The event’s corporate sponsor this year for the first time was Wells Fargo and the other community partner was United Way which has been a driving force behind RO2DO/Grad Walk since the event’s inception.

The old stereotype of an incorrigible kid from an apathetic home doesn’t fit today’s dropouts, if it ever really did. Saturday’s door-knockers reported encounters with hard-working kids carrying too much weight on their young shoulders who were excited to learn there are ways to complete their classwork even if they can’t be at school all day, Monday through Friday, due to work schedules or childcare responsibilities, to cite just a couple of predicaments. “Bless you for coming,” was a sentiment expressed on more than one front porch.

“We’re still tallying everything,” said Ruth Wright, the DMPS Community Schools District Coordinator, on Monday, “but it looks very positive at this point and we heard lots of upbeat anecdotals when the teams came back from their routes on Saturday.”

Some of us are fortunate enough to take graduation from high school for granted. But teenaged breadwinners are worth going an extra mile for on a sunny Saturday morning in the fall. Besides the chance to talk with them face-to-face, Grad Walk symbolizes all of the nontraditional supports that are in place now for kids bucking the odds. It’s a reset opportunity that clears barriers between them and the additional hundreds of thousands of dollars they’ll earn during their lifetimes with that diploma in their pocket.

After the obstacle course many kids have to negotiate throughout their lives to get there, they deserve that proud, hard-earned walk across the stage.

Photos from the 2013 Graduation Walk

Published on