When the district superintendent and school principal come knocking at your door on a Saturday morning, the initial thought might be: Uh-oh.
In this case, however, it was pretty good news.
They weren’t alone. One day each fall, Arlington educators, local politicians and community members crisscross the city to learn why students are no longer in school and to ask what can be done to get them back.
Operation Graduation attempts to re-enroll students who may have left school before graduation due to any number of factors. Some students are just a few credits shy of earning their diploma, others a bit more, but the number of credits is not the issue.
This effort meets the student where they are in terms of their education and makes a plan to work around whatever reasons they have for exiting school early in the first place.
Groups of at least three visit homes to speak with students or student guardians, first as a fact-finding mission, and next, to offer up options the student may have to return to school. When a student or a guardian can’t be reached, the group leaves information at the door that explains the path to graduation.
Even though Operation Graduation has existed for several years, the need remains, and the day rarely has a shortage of people wanting to lend a hand knocking on doors.
“This is my fifth time, no, fourth. Wait, five – I’ve lost how many years,” said Goodman Elementary assistant principal Christina Hernandez. “I keep coming back because I believe in ensuring we are recruiting our kids back to school. They often don’t know the opportunities out there for them until someone tells them. It’s all interesting because behind every door we knock on, there’s a different story.”
Since Hernandez has been at Goodman for 22 years, she often sees former students on the list and wants to visit their homes personally.
“You never know what will come your way in life,” Hernandez said. “You have strugglers in elementary, too, and you want to layer them up with support, even then, so they don’t drop out later.”
Sam Houston counselor Teresa Thigpen likes coming to students’ homes because it is far more intimate than a phone call or form letter.
“It shows the families that we care,” said Thigpen, who has been in education for 27 years, nine of them in the counseling office. “When you miss your graduation date, we don’t just forget about you. We want you to get your education and graduate, whether with your home campus, us, or at Venture or even if you decide that the GED is your best option to earn that diploma.
“We know as counselors that a high school diploma will get you further in life than no diploma at all. Just letting the kids know that … the biggest thing is that we put all the focus on graduates and walking across the stage, but we need to continue to let these kids know that we care about them and their success just as much. We do remember those kids who did not walk the stage. We want every kid to be successful. We definitely want them to know that it’s still within their reach to finish up.”
Sam Houston assistant principal Christy Sullivan called the door-to-door approach “a visual representation” of Arlington ISD showing they care. That goes a long way, she said.
“We want them to come back,” Sullivan said. “And by a district committing to a day to come out and talk to the students and their families to see what support and services they need to reintegrate into school says a lot about the district’s commitment and campus’ commitment.”
Cavazos was thrilled with the turnout at Sam and other schools.
“They keep coming back because they see the direct impact,” Cavazos said of the volunteers. “You see them come to register in the afternoon. It’s empowering for students when they see they have options, and for the parent, because sometimes the parents don’t know how close the student is to graduation.”