Vail Daily column: Valley’s kids are all right
Probably the best perk of getting to be the superintendent of Eagle County Schools is graduation weekend. Along with members of our Board of Education, I get to shake hands and look in the eyes of every single graduate from our public schools.
During the past few days, 447 of Eagle County’s seniors walked across the stage as high school students for the last time. Of these 447 graduates, 396 of them (or nearly 90 percent) are graduating from an Eagle County Schools public high school. Battle Mountain High School graduated 170, Eagle Valley High School graduated 163, Red Canyon High School/World Academy graduated 43 and the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduated 20. Collectively, this is a record high for the number of graduating seniors from our high schools.
The National Center on Education Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Education) recently announced that the graduation rate for all students in public schools topped 80 percent for the first time in history. The center expects rates to surpass 90 percent by the year 2020, a key statistical benchmark of high performing education systems.
The ceremony of high school graduation is symbolic in our society, but it also means an important economic rite of passage. High school graduates can expect to earn almost 30 percent more than someone without a high school diploma. Students that continue on to earn a college degree can expect to double their earnings potential and those who complete professional degrees can expect to triple it. Unemployment rate correlations tell a similar story. In 2013, over one in 10 non-high school graduates were unemployed. For those who earned professional degrees, only about 1 in 50 can expect to be unemployed.
Our local public high schools have a proven track record of putting students on a trajectory to higher education and economic success. An astonishing 71 percent of graduates from Battle Mountain High School’s Class of 2014 had earned college credit through Eagle County Schools’ partnership with Colorado Mountain College or through advanced placement courses. As I shook hands and graduates rolled across the stage at Eagle Valley High School, I was stunned at the number of students who wore special sashes indicating they had already earned their associate degrees — effectively a two-year scholarship for every one of them.
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For the student-athletes graduating from Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, 75 percent of them got into their top college choice and many of them are leaving with college athletic or academic scholarships. While I’m so proud of the excellence and Olympic dreams on display at the Ski & Snowboard Academy, I was equally impressed with the tenacity and spirit of the students from Red Canyon High School and World Academy. Red Canyon and World Academy are alternative high school programs for students that struggle with the traditional high school experience. Every one of these students fought through and overcame something significant to walk across that graduation stage. Perhaps more than anyone, they had to dig deep and earn it — it meant a little more to them.
The culture of the valley rings true at these ceremonies. Students selected to give speeches express gratitude — to parents, to teachers, to friends. They express expectations and offer encouragement — to their classmates. They are optimistic about, and eager to meet, their futures. What they say from campus to campus is unique, but similar — the important foundations are similar and solid.
And, how they say what they say is equally impressive. Poised, confident and enthusiastic. These are the often overlooked, but critical traits necessary for success in college and new careers. You have to be poised to handle new, challenging situations, confident in your ability to meet the challenges and enthusiastic in your efforts to do so.
Behind the scenes, counselors and families have been working busily on scholarships and college applications. Students earned athletic and academic scholarships. Collectively, hundreds of acceptance letters poured into our community. In some cases, the next step is painted on the tops of mortarboards. In other cases, only those close to the family are aware of the next steps.
Either way, our graduates know this is the beginning of a wonderful journey, not the end of one. They have reached that point where the path splits and they get to choose their next steps. Having seen the sparkle and joy in their eyes this past weekend, I’m confident they will make great choices. Congratulations, graduates. Congratulations, parents!
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.