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Guest Column

Students of today are something to be proud of

April 27, 2011 - Our community is concerned about the financial health of our school district and rightfully so.

There appears to be a serious disconnect, however, between what some members of our community think they know about the education of Lake Orion students and reality.

I attended a community event earlier this month featuring several candidates running for the Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education. Their presentations were informative, with all of them acknowledging the financial challenges our district faces.

What struck me about this meeting was the audience. Not so much because the majority was older than me, but some of them were hell-bent on criticizing the quality of education afforded students in Lake Orion and today's young people in general. Their claims were out of line.

I wonder how many of the people in the audience, especially those that may be at or near retirement age, have spent significant time recently in any of our elementary or middle schools, or our high school. How many have talked to teachers about teaching today, what works and what doesn't. How about striking up a conversation with teenagers in their community to learn about their future aspirations and how they are preparing themselves?

I am a 30-year resident of Lake Orion. My wife has lived here even longer. We both graduated in 1984 from the old Lake Orion High School. Our oldest daughter is now a junior at Lake Orion High School and our youngest is in 7th grade at Scripps Middle School.

Unlike many of the folks who have moved here since the 1990s, we have hands-on experience comparing the educations we received back then and the opportunities available to local students today. There is simply no comparison. My junior year, we went to school a half day, had no lunch period, few extracurricular activities and limited class offerings. My counselor told me the high school was not accredited at one point. Overall, the kids graduating from Lake Orion today are better prepared for their next steps in life from an educational perspective than we ever were.

During the aforementioned community meeting, a lady claimed our students did not know their multiplication tables, and a gentleman boasted students today cannot do simple math. Another questioned our students' knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, as if this was the only factor in building the character of a quality citizen in our country. A couple people even attacked the technology available to our students today and how they use it.

It is time to stand up and defend our young people. The vast majority of students I know not only can multiply and divide, but they also are taking challenging math and science classes at younger ages.

My 7th grader is learning algebra that I did not take until high school. She is taking a mandatory foreign language class this year, too, with opportunities to continue in high school. My 13 year-old nephew in Lake Orion is competing against high schoolers from other districts in forensics competitions. My oldest daughter is taking an anatomy class modeled after college-level courses. She, along with many other students, also are active participants in the high school's leadership program.

Critical writing skills and development are integrated into more classes than ever. Students are taking a variety Advanced Placement courses toward college, including significant summer work.

Contrary to the beliefs of some at the community meeting, academic standouts are indeed recognized in the middle schools and high school. The Lamp of Learning program at the middle-school level and National Honor Society are the two most visible examples of this. One can actually earn an academic letter in high school, something unheard of back in my day.

The high school also has a requirement that each student complete community service activities to graduate. I wonder how many people know members of the varsity basketball teams, for example, referee youth instructional leagues at the high school. Some Lake Orion students volunteer at local hospitals - my daughter has spent more than 140 hours on the pediatric unit at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland this year alone. Others volunteer at their churches. Last fall, during the football team's championship season, a large group of students spent an entire weekend helping the elderly and disabled in our community with painting and yard work through a church outreach program. They missed an important game that Saturday, but nobody complained.

These are just a few of the volunteer activities that I know about. I am sure there are countless more. I argue that these efforts and what the students learn about helping others and giving back to their community are just as valuable as any memorization or history lesson in a classroom. They build character and compassion ? two things sorely missed in our society today.

Let me be clear, I fully agree our schools are not perfect. I tend to be conservative and agree with many that it is time to make the tough financial decisions needed to assure our kids continue to receive quality educations in a fiscally responsible manner. Sacrifice is inevitable for everyone involved, including the teachers in our district. But, anybody in our community who tries to infer that Lake Orion's kids are not receiving quality educations is truly misguided.

Every school in every district across this state and country has underachievers. Fortunately, the vast majority of students here do take advantage of the opportunities given them and become bright, compassionate and responsible citizens. Painting them with a broad brush, as what took place at the candidate meeting a couple of weeks ago, is wrong. It truly makes me wonder who is really out of touch and in need of a dose of perspective in our community.

Rather than take shots at our students and teachers, we should all be very proud.

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