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It’s graduation day, and as excited as I am to watch our students walk across the stage, there is a part of me mourning the ones who didn’t quite make it.

Those kids who didn’t turn in that one assignment that made the difference between passing or failing.

Those kids who missed too many days and couldn’t do ALL the work that was missing.

Those kids who just never quite fit in at school and slipped through the cracks.

Those kids who realized, at the eleventh hour, that they had messed up.

To those of you reading this who are thinking, “It’s their own fault,” please take a moment and step back and think about your own mistakes. I’m sure you’ve made a few.

To those of you who didn’t bend even a little because “in the real world” or because you believe it’s your job to “teach them a lesson”, please think about a time someone gave you a second (or third or fourth) chance or lent you a helping hand.

I remember two things my first principal said to me. First, you can’t save them all (but I’ve spent 28 years trying), and second, never take something away from a student you can never give back.

Students only have one chance to walk across that stage and graduate with their class.

Sure, they can do summer school or come back as a 5th year senior. And yes, they can get their GED or HSED.

But they won’t ever have the chance to graduate with their peers again.

I get it. These kids have made choices that put them in this situation, and it’s hard to overlook that.

I get it. You have rules and expectations, and you want to be “fair” to all the students who followed those rules.

I get it. Those last-ditch efforts create more work for you.

I get it. Some kids are just so far behind, there’s not much you can do.

But what about the ones who are trying, even if it is at the eleventh hour?

Think about what you know about the adolescent brain (if you haven’t read anything since your undergrad adolescent psych class, you need to).

Think about the iceberg principle – we see 20% of what’s going on in a person’s life. 80% is hidden.

Think about what you really want that kid to learn.

Me?

I want to teach those kids that when they were down, someone lent a helping hand.

I want to be able to say, “Hey, you did mess up, but let’s figure out together how to fix it.”

I know we can’t save them all.

Despite our best efforts, there are those who won’t ever walk across that stage.

But what about those who are close?

What’s more important, teaching a lesson or teaching a kid?

For me, it will always be teaching a kid.

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