Featured in the June 8 publication of the White Bear Press
"What are your plans for next year?
" How often do high school seniors hear this question, especially when they are on the social circuit of graduation open houses and neighborhood gatherings? A dozen times a day?
The questions were so much easier in grade school: "What do you want to be when you grow up
?" or "What do you want to do when you get older?
" One day the answer might be marine biologist or firefighter, and the next day, teacher, veterinarian, or zoo keeper. Back then, any answer seemed to work, even if it were borrowed from a friend.
But for high school seniors, the question matters more, and so does the answer. But the real pressure is not the question or the answer, but comes from the kind of wide world they are entering.
Think for a moment about the world of these graduates and the events and changes that have occurred in their school lifetime from 2004 to 2016 - local, national and world events that have influenced and will influence their futures.
First, when this year's graduating class entered middle school in the fall of 2009, our economy was scraping the bottom of the Great Recession. The national unemployment rate stood at ten percent, and while Minnesota's unemployment rate was lower at eight percent, many families experienced financial challenges. Thus, at a time students were making course selections for middle school and high school, being prepared for life after high school was a critical consideration.
Second, during their time in school our country has been engaged in on-going international conflicts; some of our graduates know what it is like to have a dad or mom or other relative deployed. Most graduates know classmates whose family members are veterans or have been deployed.
Third, local issues have also influenced student aspirations and plans. One issue all these students are aware of is the prolonged drop in water level in White Bear Lake. When this year's graduating class was in primary school, the lake level was near its normal high. But between 2007 and 2013 (their third through ninth grades) the lake level dropped more than four and one-half feet to its lowest level in the past century. Our students are not just aware and knowledgeable about water conservation, but about resource management.
When you ask questions and listen to high school seniors, think about the '3 P's' that have gone into their answers; purpose, preparation and persistence.
Purpose represents the goals to which our graduates aspire. These have been influenced by family, our schools, faith, community and core values of compassion, integrity, respect, responsibility and service.
Preparation represents the opportunities students have had in the White Bear Lake Area Schools to take challenging courses that prepare them to enter this challenging world. These courses include 33 college credit classes. In addition, new this past year is the Manufacturing Pathway, which prepares students to go on to higher education or to go directly into internships or to cutting-edge employment.
Persistence represents the efforts and determination to pursue purpose in spite of the challenges faced along the way. For many of our students, the financial reality of college costs requires persistence and determination to find a way to follow goals one step at a time. And for all students, the interest and support of this community of adults is critical.
So when you ask a graduate "What are your plans for next year?
" take time to listen and to ask those follow-up questions that affirm their purpose, preparation and persistence. Then you will be a part of their story, too.
Michael Lovett, Ph.D
Superintendent, White Bear Lake Area Schools