Last week I attended a “senior celebration” at a high school within walking distance of my apartment. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, I don’t live in the best part of town and the high school near us is no exception to that general rule. Granted, it’s not like the school where I took my SAT, where there were rumors of weapons and gang fights (most of it was probably made up by the easily frightened white kids at my own suburban high school). But it doesn’t rank very high in Colorado. According to CSAPs the freshmen were 48% proficient in Reading last year. Now, I’m not a statistician but that doesn’t seem very good. A group called “Great Schools: Involved Parents, Successful Kids” only gave it a 3 out of 10 and the over all district received the same score. I read on another site that it’s the 128th district out of 136 in Colorado. Let’s assume the stats are somewhat accurate, despite the fact that I only just googled the information about five minutes ago.
Even with a reasonable margin of error, that high school still isn’t doing well.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from my neighborhood is a place like Douglas County where I later attended the graduation party of a young woman I once nannied during my college years. It was a very different experience from the previous night, and not simply because it lacked tedious awards ceremony with perfunctory speeches which no one will recall by the end of summer. It was a party with food in chaffing dishes and cupcakes that cost $3 each at the shop where they’re made. The women were in dresses, the graduate in heels. I wore my chacos and a pair of loose shorts that were $7 at Goodwill last summer. But it is more than that, the clothes and fancy food are only symptomatic. This young woman is attending CSU with the plan of graduate school afterwards.
I’m relieved my neighbor was accepted to two colleges and even has a small scholarship to help cover some first costs. When we leftthe ceremonylast week, another friend who had attended hooked her arm into a younger sister’s elbow–another refugee who will be a freshmen next year.
“Four years!” she said brightly as we skipped down the stairs outside in the warm night air. “We’re going to see you here in four years, right? You’ll be getting awards and scholarships too!” The new freshmen giggled but agreed.
That is the difference. Most days, I’m happy the kids in my neighborhood can read and that some can write. The syntax is often a mess, the grammar is usually backwards. But this is at leasttheir second language, for some it’s a third. I want them to graduate high school because I want them to have a chance in life. Education in America is the beginning of anything. It’s hard to communicate that to our refugees, but there are a few students who seem to understand.
The young woman in a wealthier part of town–I love her and I’m thrilled about her future plans. But for her, for me, college was just an expectation. It was a factual part of life that followed soon after high school. This is what is different about the children where I live. College is a dream. High school graduation is a journey.
But it’s the beginning of life in America. The start of life in a new land to which they’ve escaped, where they are rebuilding everything from the ground up. High school is no longer just a fact of life, it’s the foundation for a future that was vastly altered the day they left their homes and set out for this place.
High School Graduation never meant so much.