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2005-06-12 - 12:49 p.m.

Graduation Day

My granddaughter Kristina in Corvalis, Oregon, and niece Sarah in Vermont both graduate this week from high school. And, of course, I offer my congratulations. For them, however, both excellent students, getting through high school and even college is to be expected. Yesterday, however, as I was reading Friday’s Davis Enterprise, I noticed that Davis School for Independent Studies (DSIS) had graduated their seniors the night before. I quickly scanned the names for one of my former students, as this was the year he should graduate or receive a certificate of completion.

When Brandon was twelve years old, the school psychologist referred him and his twin brother to me, as they had not yet learned to read at grade level. Severely dyslexic, the boys had even attended a school in the Bay Area for learning disabled children. After which, their mother, who had home schooled them for several years, died after a long illness.

When I pre-tested them at age twelve, they read at just above pre-primer level. I sensed they had regressed during their mother’s illness and because of her death. But nonetheless, we started with the basics, practicing blending and working on auditory processing, which seemed to be the main issue. I called them the Phonics Kings, as they knew every rule, just had difficult putting them into practice.

At the end of that school year, they had made progress, but we continued to work through the summer, as the Davis school district hoped they would be able to go into junior high in Woodland, where they lived. [Since the boys lived in Woodland, it had been a special accommodation to allow them to attend the Davis School District Independent Studies Program. The District now wanted them moved back to Woodland’s responsibility.] In September a post-test showed their reading ability to be at early fourth grade level. Excellent progress, but still causing me to be more than a little concerned about advancing them to junior high with six or seven different classrooms and teachers. We had barely begun to work on writing skills. Besides concerns about their lack of academic background knowledge, I worried about their lack of sophistication. As farm raised boys, they knew everything there was to know about the out of doors, hunting, fishing, how to track ant tracks, but how to get along with bullies might prove to be a different matter. Sweet kids.

A few months later, when their Dad offered to donate some books to the tutoring program, I stopped by the farm and was able to visit with the boys for awhile. It seemed that the one more confident boy (the leader of the two) had adjusted quite well and had developed some friendships; Brandon, on the other hand, seemed depressed and hated school. I expressed concern to his father and suggested some counseling, as the boy expressed hopelessness – a danger sign.

A call came from the father late in the summer, asking if I could work with Brandon again – in fact, take over his homeschooling. Because he had been a student in the Davis school district before, it was agreed that he could return. I attended his IEP (Independent Educational Plan) session with the school psychologist, and we made a plan for the coming year. Brandon came to my home four days a week for three-hours a day for most of that school year. We studied social studies, math, reading and writing; he attended a science class at DSIS, and once a week met with a teacher, who went over the work he had done with me and offered advice for the coming week.

Brandon’s goal was to become a game warden or forest ranger. When we researched requirements for that occupation, we found that two years of college were required. At first, that discouraged Brandon, but I assured him that it would be challenging, but that with hard work, a bit of help, he could do it. He buckled down, studied hard, and even I became convinced that he might be able to do it. His brother had continued in public school; his goal was to join the Army when he graduated. Brandon said he didn’t want anything to do with that. “That’s stupid.”

He made great progress that year and decided to work on his own the next year, attending classes at DSIS on a regular basis. I spoke with him and his father by phone only a few times over the next couple of years.

Yesterday when I saw Brandon’s name on the list of graduates and a quote from him in the paper, saying he plans to enroll at Yuba Community College in the fall, tears flooded my eyes. I could hardly wait to call him with congratulations. I am so proud of his accomplishment. No one knows better than I the challenges he has had to overcome, how hard he has had to work – and what lies ahead of him. Or so I thought.

When I called him yesterday, he was pleased to hear from me. And I was pleased to hear the pride in his voice. And then when I told him how excited I was for him to be going to college in the fall, he said, “Yeah, I’m planning to go there for a couple of semesters and then transfer to a four-year college. But I might join the Marines first.”


“Yeah, they’re an elite corps…and I want to be elite.”

I didn’t say it, but I thought…yeah, elite fodder. Who’s been talking to this kid? Two years ago, he thought it was a dumb idea for his brother to join the Army. What does elite mean to him? I’m depressed. This kid has struggled so hard to get where he is that the idea of seeing his name one day on “In Memoriam” is heartbreaking. The knowledge that recruiters are targeting these kids – the ones that barely made it or can’t quite make it – enrages me.

The elite are the ones going to the four-year college right now, in hopes that the war will be over before the draft has to be reinstated. Perhaps there’ll be enough Brandons enticed to enlist for the promise of a good education later on so they won’t have to go.

Graduation…to what?

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