Opinion: Who’s watching out for the ‘average’ students?


Dan Carter

This time of year is full of honors for some pretty amazing kids. Valedictorians are celebrated for hard work, dedication and scholarship. Those kids represent the best of the best in our high schools and they deserve all the accolades they get.

Congratulations to all of them, many of whom are brilliant and will go on to do amazing things. Some of them are children of our friends—parents who endured the stress of test prep, college applications, etc., etc., etc. Yet we knew all along that they would achieve great things.

The value of education is not lost on those kids (nor their parents) and never will be.

But I also think about that large mass of students who could really benefit from the same level of support and encouragement. Those are the kids who need to know that the value of education goes beyond preparation for high-stakes tests.

Those are the kids who need to know that educational attainment is absolutely vital to our community because THEY will be filling important jobs, they will be responding to police and fire calls, they will keep the water running, they will keep building our infrastructure, they will keep our vehicles running smoothly and they will keep our information technology operating at high levels. These are the kids who will be driving our ambulances, preparing our meals, staffing our retail and financial customer service centers and taking care of our elderly relatives.

And we need them to understand the value of education as much as their all-star peers.

Our students who pursue those careers are often viewed as “average” or even “below average” because they don’t seem to measure up. But the skills needed for those jobs are not average. And for a city like Billings, it would be cool if those students were given a boost.

A part-time teacher in Arkansas once wrote about her experiences with those kids who get pinned as “average” and what it means to them.

“Imagine being an average student in a world of high stakes testing and grade-dependent accolades. The pressure to stand out and to be deemed advanced, gifted, or an honor students can begin as young as kindergarten. It’s no wonder that by the time some of these kids reach middle school they have opted to settle for good enough. Unfortunately, many of these students are capable of more, at least in some subject areas. But as they can never measure up to top students, they have long since quit trying.”

A local business leader once asked why I spend so much time helping students. For me, the answer is easy: I am trying to get at least one kid to not settle for good enough. If we can encourage them to seek their own path and believe in their skills to measure up— especially if they enjoy working with their hands, working on machines, working with technology or working on art—then we all benefit.

For some, it may be easy to assume that “average” students and “under achievers” might not be as driven as their over-achieving peers. They might be lazy, sure. And sometimes socioeconomics plays a part. But it’s not always that simple. Could it be possible that their apathy just might stem from similar stress that our top students are feeling?

And if so, couldn’t we as a community—a community whose survival depends on intelligent and hard-working people—provide the same help, attention and encouragement to cope with that stress?

Might be worth a try …

Dan Carter, asked for a short bio, said: “I’m an average dad with average skills that had me in journalism for about 20 years. I’ve been in the public affairs business for the last 13 years. My wife, Lynn, and I have three kids, five grandkids and four dogs. We’re pretty busy.”

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