By Don Keelan
I am not aware of any place where one could find out how Vermont high school graduates have fared five to 10 years after graduating from our state’s high schools. I suspect that such information might be archived at several of the state’s independent schools. Burr & Burton Academy, in Manchester, does periodically produce “It All Started Here.”
Each June, Vermont’s high schools provide a great deal of pomp and ceremony for the send-off of their seniors — but it is likely that the schools will never hear from the students again. If our schools only invested the time and energy to track their graduates and determine how well the grad has done, that would be useful information in the development of future curriculums, and feedback for college and vocational guidance might be better focused.
Sixteen years ago, such a study was done for Arlington Memorial High School. The study surveyed the school’s prior 15 years of graduates — about 400 in total. The survey had a response rate of approximately 70 percent, the benefit of doing such a survey with a small number of grads in each class. (Full disclosure: This writer is a trustee of the foundation that funded the study.)
The study’s conclusions were quite noteworthy. There were positive and negative responses. Respondents revealed that they were well-prepared in math and science and believed that having attended a small high school had significant benefits — especially for those students who went off to colleges with a relatively small enrollment of under 2,000 students.
The negative points were indeed constructive to the school’s administration and faculty. Students noted they were unprepared for the college workload, writing requirements were much more demanding, and for those who went off to large institutions, adjusting to a college student population in the thousands was daunting.
There were few results obtained from those students who had gone into the trades or the military.
Vermont is quite proud of the products it exports — maple syrup, teddy bears and craft beers — as it should be. It does not promote how well another export has fared: our high school graduates.
A case in point is a young man who graduated in 2002 from Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School and, four years later, left Champlain College with a degree in public relations. Travis Mears, who was raised in Bennington (and whose family still resides there) went on to obtain his master’s degree from Colorado State University.
Since 2016, Travis has held the position of director of Development and Scholarship Programs at the Greater Seattle Business Association. GSBA is the largest LGBT and allied chamber of commerce in the United States with over 1,300 members.
The MAU high school grad’s passion for civil rights and education did not go unnoticed by the executives at Microsoft. In August, he was selected to be one of a thousand worldwide candidates to attend a fully paid 10 day stay in Copenhagen, representing the United States at the annual UNLEASH conference. The conference brings together young adults and their ideas and visions on how to “build lasting global networks around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” The 17 goals were established in 2015 and ratified by all U.N. member states, with the hope that by 2030, there would be a much better world in which to live.
Vermont’s high school grads go on to college, the military, the trades, and other endeavors. How well they have done should not be a secret. There are thousands of stories that could and should be told, if for no other reason, but to inspire those students still in school.
Travis Mears may have come from a small town school in Vermont, but that has not deterred him from making a huge impact in the community he now calls home.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.