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Defending your Right to Graduate: Students Prove they have what it takes to Succeed

May. 29, 2018
Defending Your Right to Graduate: Students prove they have what it takes to succeed

As it comes time for students to don their caps and gowns– ready to take on what adults might call the real world– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College (DMLK) students are challenged with thoughtfully answering a very critical question:

You’ve mastered all of your graduation requirements, but can you actually prove that you are prepared to pursue your future career? Why do you deserve to walk across the stage at the end of your senior year?

As a graduation requirement, DMLK students are expected to do just that; they showcase a body of evidence– called Student Defenses– comprised of their best work, artifacts, test scores and more explaining why they are deserving of earning the coveted diploma and prove that they are truly prepared for college or their postsecondary plans. Student Defenses not only test students’ ability to perform under pressure, they are also challenged to refine their public speaking skills and are expected to keep track of their work throughout the year, much like a college environment. The Student Defenses body of work is also a Capstone Portfolio, which will be an option for students on the competency demonstration menu with our new graduation requirements for the Classes of 2021 and beyond.

Defending Your Right to Graduate: Students prove they have what it takes to succeedStudents are paired with other students, and present to a panel of people who have been cheering for them along the way — teachers, their family, peers, community members and district leaders. Using a scoring rubric, the panel gives students feedback and asks follow-up questions related to how students are prepared for what’s next along their college and career journey.

After Student Defenses are completed by each student, students and their families leave while the remaining judges deliberate. Students are encouraged by the panel of adults, and are provided with feedback on areas they should address moving forward.

“In their presentations, students displayed rigor and deep analysis on topics that required scholarly research, analysis and critical thinking,” said panelist Janet Damon, a DPS Library Service Specialist, “One student wrote a paper called ‘Hidden Potential.’ He said during his freshman year he just didn’t engage in the classroom because so much was happening in life. But his teachers never gave up on him, and he said, ‘They talked to me in private about my strengths. I slowly started to believe them.’ He is now going to study atmospheric science at the University of Colorado-Boulder and he recently finished his internship with a solar company using 3-D modeling to engineer optimal paneling for roofs with different pitches,” she said.

At DMLK, students begin preparing for Student Defenses early — they currently practice and present during 8th, 10th and 12th grades. By placing such an emphasis on what it means to be truly ready for college and career ready, students are introduced to the rigor of the college environment.

DMLK and DPS would like to thank all of the contributors to this work — the community, families, district team and school staff. For more information on college and career readiness, visit