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EDITORIAL: Graduation is too important to let students fail

We need to do more to ensure every student graduates high school, editor Grace Kennedy writes

To many Observer readers, I probably seem pretty young. I’m barely a handful of years out of university, and haven’t yet had my first high school reunion.

To others — to high schoolers in particular — I’m kind of old. I have never been on Tik Tok, although I’ve heard good things, and I only learned what “spilling the tea” was about three months ago.

Of course, to me it feels like I graduated from high school yesterday. Which is why I was shocked when I saw the Indigenous graduation rates for the 2011-2012 school year.

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In the entire province, including public and private schools, only 60 per cent of Indigenous students graduated high school after they had reached Grade 12 for the first time.

In the Langley School District, where I graduated, it was 67 per cent. In Fraser Cascade, it was just 55 per cent.

Of the 56 Indigenous students in SD78 who reached Grade 12 in 2011-2012, only 31 graduated high school.

This, to me, was absurd. And it wasn’t even the district’s worst graduation rate for Indigenous students.

In 2001-2002, 38 per cent of Indigenous students graduated Grade 12. Thirty-eight per cent.

Sure, that was almost 20 years ago now. The camera had just been introduced to the flip phone and frosted tips were still a popular hairstyle for men.

But, despite the bad hair and poor quality photos, it wasn’t that long ago.

Maybe students weren’t being forced from their families and taken to residential schools, but B.C.’s education system was still failing them.

People who enter adulthood without a high school diploma make less money than their counterparts, according to a 2016 study from Statistics Canada.

They have also have higher unemployment rates: in 2016, only 41 per cent of women and 67 per cent of men without diplomas had a job.

Women often face other challenges when they don’t graduate high school — one in five young women without a diploma were single parents, compared to only two per cent of women with a university degree, for example.

I am a privileged white woman, and when I graduated high school, I was lucky to be a privileged white girl.

It never crossed my mind that when I graduated more than 3,000 Indigenous students in B.C. hadn’t completed high school and would be facing all of those myriad challenges.

So this year, to know that every one of the Indigenous students at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School finished their education and left with a diploma in 2020 — that is a big thing.

RELATED: Grad rates reach highest point ever in SD78, as nearly all Agassiz Secondary students leave with diploma

I am so proud of all the hard work those students put into their education. I am proud of obstacles they overcame, and the successes that they will find in the future because of it.

The Fraser Cascade School District is doing better for its students when it comes to graduation rates. It has been seeing steady increases for the last 20 years, and I hope that trajectory continues.

I am not an educational expert, and I don’t pretend to know the best way to make sure this increase will continue.

But I do know that every student who leaves the system without a diploma is one who will be struggling against challenges they don’t have to face. And that is unacceptable.

Congratulations to the 2019-2020 class of graduates for all they have accomplished.

We can’t let the students who come after them fall through the cracks.

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