As soon as Monica C. walked through the doors of Lamar High School’s cafeteria this past Saturday afternoon, she was greeted with applause.
After all, only an hour earlier, Arlington ISD Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos and Lamar principal Andy Hagman had stopped by her apartment. Joining the men were school board member Aaron Reich and his wife, Debra; Alison Larance, Arlington ISD’s director of innovation and operation and transformational learning division; and drop-out prevention specialist Ryan Myers.
The group had excitedly urged the 18-year-old to return to school to complete more credit hours, which would enable her to graduate this school year. While out of school, Monica held jobs at a gas station as well as an insurance company. She wants to one day work in real estate.
Monica was unaware of how close she was to getting her diploma. With 17.5 credits, she was optimistic upon hearing the news from her surprise visitors.
“When can I start?” she emphatically asked.
“You can start on Monday!” Myers said, with the others nodding their heads in agreement.
Monica was the second of five residences to which their vehicle caravan traveled on Saturday as part of the annual Operation Graduation – one of many district-wide initiatives designed to increase the graduation rate of high school students. The effort, which has evolved from a campaign conducted by several big districts 11 years ago, encourages absent students to drop back in.
In the program, volunteers often walk or drive to the homes of students. And this has proven to be successful, as many of them have re-enrolled and later graduated. Even better, several students have continued their education in college or trade schools and landed great jobs.
Myers was ecstatic when Monica sat with a Lamar guidance counselor to register and discuss a plan of action toward graduation. Earlier that morning, Myers and the team worked to persuade brothers to return to campus as well. The teenagers had been working full-time construction jobs to support their family through adversities, particularly those brought on by the pandemic, Myers said.
“I thought today went great … Some (students) we hadn’t heard from in a while. But I think we really showed them that we care,” he said.
The students that the team visited, Myers said, were selected because they are “so close” to obtaining the minimum requirement of 22 credits set by the Texas Education Agency. “A couple of kids, they just need two senior classes and they’ll be done,” he said.
How much has the pandemic influenced absences among high school seniors?
“I think big time!” Myers said. “… Families have been a little apprehensive, and kind of waiting to see how the vaccine works and watching the numbers.”
Nevertheless, Cavazos thought Operation Graduation went “outstanding” on Saturday.
“We had the opportunity to directly connect with students who had not yet enrolled,” he said.
Cavazos said it is crucial that families know that the district offers various options to assist absent students such as flexible scheduling, opportunities to work at their own pace and of course, full enrollment.
“We know that a high school diploma is the beginning of a foundation for a successful future. And that is what we tried to communicate today,” Cavazos said.