Demond: No Diploma, National Champion

The problem of chronic absenteeism is complex. In recent months, many have weighed in on this issue following reporting on challenges uncovered at a number of DC high schools. This year’s senior class experienced unusually strict accountability due to public outrage. But, by responding reactively to public outrage, local leaders failed to truly understand the problem, creating unintended consequences for the city’s young people.

If you want to understand the challenges DC kids face, then we think you need to meet Demond.

Demond I AmLast summer, mold left Demond’s family rental home uninhabitable. While attempting to address this problem through appropriate legal channels, Demond and his family were temporarily placed by DC government in a hotel in Virginia. When the government’s support ran out, the family split up to live with various relatives. Demond found himself at his aunt’s house in Maryland.

As his mother continued to fight a housing battle in DC courts, Demond entered his senior year of high school at Eastern. A lifelong DC resident, he discovered that his DC One Card would not allow him to get to school from his aunt’s house in Maryland.

Though he made efforts to complete his coursework, he soon found himself failing classes due to absenteeism. This challenge was made more complicated because one of Demond’s classes did not have a regular teacher. His government teacher missed significant portions of the year on military and paternity leave.

Oh, and did I mention he’s a twin? How is a sub expected to know which identical twin showed up to class?

Demond ended up failing a class first semester. He then moved to his sister’s house so his DC One Card would allow him to come to school more easily. He made up his failure through an evening credit recovery class. He handled all his academic requirements.

But, he still didn’t graduate.

Why? Because he didn’t have enough community service hours. WHAT? I know what you’re thinking. He’s a Reach tutor. Reach is Demondinherently about service. You’re right. He’s tutored DCPS elementary school students for over 150 hours. He has presented on behalf of local nonprofits through our Teen Philanthropy Challenge. But, he got paid. And, DC policy makes that unacceptable.

So, in May, Demond found out that he wasn’t going to graduate with his class. And, you know what he did after that?

He got on an airplane for the first time. You see, Demond spent the last year preparing for the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurship Expo.

He’s brilliant and creative. He does graphic design work on the side.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 11.29.51 PMAfter developing an idea during the 2017 Reach Summer Leadership Academy, Demond worked with the STEMIE Coalition to prepare for this national competition. He missed his prom to go. And, while he was there, he won a national award for Best App. The patent is pending. His invention helps families more easily shop for groceries on a budget.

Do we really think he doesn’t deserve a diploma?

If we want to support young people on their path to graduation, let’s start with three policy changes.

1)   Service can be paid. To be able to work for free is a privilege. Let’s honor paid work for nonprofit organizations as well as family childcare. When families are dealing with housing instability and wildly expensive childcare, are we really saying they have to work outside their families for free? Demond served Payne Elementary for three years, and we honored his work with a monthly stipend. That should not erase his service.

2)   Pay for Transportation. Mayor Bowser’s support of student transportation is admirable. But, we live in a city where family housing instability is far too high and the city regularly places families outside DC. We must be sure these highly mobile students can still get to school.

3)   More Flexible Credit Earning Opportunities. Do we really think that sitting in class with an inconsistent substitute teacher is better than Demond’s yearlong experience preparing for the National Invention Convention? We should allow vetted DCPS partners to create credit-recovery experiences for young people that need more flexible options to satisfy graduation requirements. This could be done in partnership with licensed DCPS teachers to ensure academic rigor.

DCPS is currently requesting public feedback on their new graduation requirements. Let’s make sure they create a system that supports students like Demond.

He’ll walk in August, but he should have walked in June. All of us – every DC citizen – should be ashamed that we’ve created a system that doesn’t support an exceptional young person battling to succeed. When rules are more important than reason, we’re doing it wrong.

Now, we have a chance to do it better.

Posted in Ed Reform Notes, Meet Our Tutors, Updates |
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