It is the culmination of years of hard work. It is the product of countless reports, exams, track and field days, art projects, school dances, science fairs, tournaments and performances. It is a time for all the parents, family members, teachers and coaches who shuttled, cheered, challenged and led their students along the way to now celebrate their achievement. It is one of life’s most important milestones, placing a bookend on childhood and opening a new chapter on a bright future of possibilities. It is graduation time for the class of 2017.
This year’s crop of graduating seniors in Leander ISD boasts 23 students who were distinguished as Semifinalists in the 2017 National Merit Program based on their performances on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). In the entire country, less than 1 percent of high school students achieve this distinction. There were also 93 LISD seniors who were distinguished as Commended Students — placing them among the top 5 percent of the 1.6 million students who entered the competition — and 31 seniors who earned recognition through the National Hispanic Recognition Program based on their PSAT/NMSQT scores.
Additionally, we have seven students in the class of 2017 who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT exam! This is an incredibly rare achievement that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of graduates in the United States can claim. I am astounded at the dedication and preparation these students have committed to reaching this highest level of academic performance.
The number of students participating in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and dual credit courses continues to increase, as does the number of college credit hours our students are earning through these programs. Seniors who participated in our Career and Technical Education programs — like JROTC, speech and debate, cosmetology, DECA, FFA — have once again this year earned recognition on the local, state and even national level. We are excited to see the degree of readiness these students have achieved in preparing themselves for any number of options after they cross the graduation stage.
Another shining star in preparing LISD students for success is our alternative high school program, including New Hope and Twilight high schools. Students who have fallen behind or need an alternative to the traditional school schedule and structure due to illness, family circumstance or otherwise, are able to regroup, refocus and restore their opportunity to graduate on time. This year, our alternative high schools expect to graduate some 80 seniors! And thanks to a program called College Coaches, funded by the Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation (LEEF), some of these seniors, as well as seniors at our other high schools, benefitted from working one-on-one with a dedicated, on-site counselor who assisted them in planning and bringing to fruition their post-secondary plans.
LEEF also hosted an event last month, the annual Student Teacher Academic Recognition (STAR) Banquet, in which I had the honor of participating. Twenty-six outstanding seniors from our five traditional high schools (Glenn High School will be added with their inaugural senior class in 2019) and New Hope High School, were surrounded by their families and principals as they took the stage with the educator they selected as most influential in their academic career. To watch these accomplished young people speak so passionately about how their chosen teacher, coach or counselor went out of his or her way to reach them, inspire, challenge or simply be there for them was truly inspiring, and a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do.
But as we say so often, the first and most important teacher our students have is a parent. Another integral LISD program that ensures students are on the right track before they even reach our doors is Parents as Teachers (PAT), a free early education program that helps qualifying families in our area, from pregnancy to age 5. Our team of PAT professionals offers in-home and site-based resources to arm parents with information about child development, age-appropriate activities at home, parenting materials and socialization opportunities. Last week, PAT held its annual graduation celebration for 60 families who will enter pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in the fall. They were each gifted with a fully stocked backpack and two nails: one to hang their high school diploma and one for their college diploma.
From kindergarten to high school graduation, we truly count it a privilege to be entrusted with shaping the minds, talents, curiosities and passions for learning in each of our students. I am in awe at all these graduates have already accomplished in their short time with us, and I look forward to celebrating their milestone later this week and watching them set off to fulfill their bright futures.