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Only two-thirds of students in the state of Oregon get their high school diplomas in 4 years. Congratulations, Isaiah, for being one of them today. A lot of people -- teachers, family -- said you couldn't do it, and you proved them wrong.

Most of the time, we talk about what knowledge or skills high school graduates are supposed to possess once they're diploma-in-hand. But here are some of what I've learned as a parent based on my son's experience in the Oregon public schools:

1. We cannot accept one-size-fits-all schooling. If it weren't for the North Eugene Alternative High School, a program geared towards at-risk teens, my son would not have graduated. I am so incredibly thankful for the teachers there. And I am so heartbroken that after 10 years, this was the last graduating class from North Eugene Alternative. Budget cuts hurt the students who can least afford it.

2. I am thankful for charter schools letting educators, parents and students try out other models for teaching and learning. (The school day at North Eugene Alternative starts at noon, for example, and the class sizes are very, very small.) Charter schools aren't always better than mainstream public schools. Our experiences with several charter schools at the elementary school level bore that out. But choice -- and choice in public education -- is important. But "choice" is not enough. Indeed, "choice" is a privilege. And "choice" is also a red herring.

3. Our schools need to offer better mental health support. There are a lot of reasons why kids struggle academically, and they are often issues that are far outside the control of a particular teacher. I realize when budgets are tight that programs that seem extraneous (read: aren't immediately tied to standardized test scores) get axed. But students need to be able to access mental health support. And the school system needs to recognize and respect these needs.

4. Home matters. Parents matter. Even though the school day takes the bulk of our children's time (between 8-ish and 4ish, Monday thru Friday-ish, September thru June-ish), the home environment dictates a lot of what happens in our children's brains. When I say "home matters," I mean poverty matters. I mean personal issues and family crises matter. We can't pretend like those things cease to exist once the school bell rings.

5. Not every kid should go to college. We need to build other mechanisms that support other futures -- ones that don't expect everyone to go to college. Bring back shop class. Encourage apprenticeships. Encourage mentorships. And do not ever, ever tell children that if they don't go succeed in school and don't go to college that their only other choices are homelessness or working at Taco Bell.

6. I could not be prouder of my son.

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Audrey Watters


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