Photo: Elizabeth Mikaele, Daisy Rodriguez, and Lacey Grady

Graduation season is here, and once again the spotlight is on our seniors as they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Each graduate has accomplished a major milestone. For a few, the journey has been relatively easy. For most, achieving graduation has been hard work but doable. But for some, like Daisy Rodriguez, graduation can seem insurmountable.

When Daisy was a ninth-grader at Hudson’s Bay, her family’s home burned to the ground. The family was left homeless and destitute. Feeling overwhelmed and depressed in the aftermath, Daisy began failing her classes. Eventually she dropped out of school. Both her home and her freshman year were in ashes.

But Daisy’s school community wasn’t ready to give up on her, even if she had given up on herself. When Daisy was an eighth-grader at Discovery Middle School, her counselor Elizabeth Mikaele had encouraged Daisy to sign up for a scholarship program called College Bound. As a counselor at Bay, Mikaele reminded Daisy of that opportunity and urged her to come back to school. Daisy recalls other acts of kindness. Teacher Lacey Grady gave her a box with bowls, cooking utensils, a lamp, and other items that her AVID class had collected. Daisy said, “People stood by me, supported me, and kept me on track with my academics so I wouldn’t let anything keep me down, not even the fire.”

She re-enrolled in school. While attending Bay full time, she also took classes at Clark College through the Running Start program to make up for her freshman year. She brought her GPA up to nearly 3.0, passed every section of the high school proficiency exam, and was awarded the Presidential Award for Academic Achievement. When the class of 2012 received diplomas, Daisy was among them. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school.

After convincing Washington State University (WSU) of her academic potential, Daisy also became the first in her family to attend college. At Pullman, she’s become involved with the Residence Hall Association and helped advise WSU’s programming committee. Daisy is now a sophomore and is majoring in apparel, merchandising, design, and textiles. She’s planning a career in product development and clothing design.

While Daisy’s story is remarkable, students facing significant challenges in our district is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Nearly 54 percent of our students qualify for federally subsidized lunches, up from 39 percent seven years ago. Homelessness is on the rise as well, with the number of students served by the HOPE program increasing from 562 to 804 over the last two school years.

And yet our students still find ways to excel. In 2012, 90 percent of 12th-graders met the state high school proficiency standard in math. Nearly 100 percent met the standard in reading and writing. And since 2011, our district’s on-time graduation rate has increased by nearly 10 percentage points.

You, the VPS team members on the front lines, have seen these achievements firsthand. And you’ve made these achievements possible. You have guided and encouraged students in the classroom, on the playground, and on the school bus. You have stepped up to help when children and their families have faced difficulties and disasters. Because of you, more of our students are graduating, going on to college, and leading successful lives.

Thank you for all the work you’ve done this year. I wish you a relaxing, refreshing, terrific summer. It is very well-deserved.

Take care,

Image: Steve's signature