TECUMSEH, Mich., Nov. 14, 2013 — Students, teachers, administrators and members of the community gathered Wednesday, Nov. 13 to reach out to students who haven’t yet earned a diploma and are not currently enrolled in school.
Their message: “We want you back.”
The first-ever Tecumseh Dropout Recovery Walk began at the Tecumseh Public Schools Board Office. There, Superintendent Kelly Coffin told the gathering it was time to make a statement about the importance of graduation.
“We’re here to say that all kids matter,” she said. “If you are not in school and haven’t yet earned a diploma, we want to find a path for you to get it.”
After the pep talk, Coffin and the other volunteers spanned out across the community to meet people, hang posters and visit with dropped-out students.
Among those who participated in the walk was Aidan Cox, who left Tecumseh High School in the 12th grade after falling behind his peers. After a few months of stocking meat at Meijer, Cox said he knew he needed to get back to school, but didn’t know how to go about doing it.
Then he got a call from the district’s Graduation Alliance, “and that’s pretty much all I needed – I just needed someone to tell me that they had a way to go to school that would work for me. I was so excited.”
Cox was the first student to graduate from the program. “I can tell you, without a doubt, if it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be a high school graduate now,” he said.
Two additional Tecumseh Graduation Alliance students, Nick Wagatha and Jessica Putze, received their diplomas in ceremonies held before the walk.
“This means a lot to me,” said Wagatha, who left school in his senior year so that he could support his daughter, who was born in December. “It means I can give my daughter a better future by getting a better-paying job.”
Putze, who dropped out after becoming estranged from her parents when she was 17, said she felt a wave of relief when she was handed her diploma. She’s now hoping to enroll in the Veterinary Technology Program at Michigan State University.
Research shows students who do not complete high school are more likely to be jobless, impoverished, reliant on social services or incarcerated. Dropouts in Michigan make about $12,000 less per year than their counterparts who finish high school, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
The walk was part of a partnership with Graduation Alliance, which has been working with the district since March to give dropped-out students the flexibility, social support and academic interventions they need to get back to school.
After the walk, Graduation Alliance team leader Kathy Maier said the goal is to help as many students as possible follow in the footsteps of graduates such as Cox, Wagatha and Putze.
“It’s definitely not easy – not for the students who are returning to their studies or for the people who are dedicated to getting them to graduation,” she said. “But it is possible. We know that for a fact. And this event is intended to spread that message.”
The Tecumseh Graduation Alliance program is currently available for un-enrolled students living within the district’s boundaries who are 21 or younger, but Alliance staff members are always willing to help guide others to programs that might help put them on the path to high school completion as well.