Pat Lujan, director of instruction for the Roswell Independent School District, discusses graduation rates on Tuesday during the Roswell Kiwanis Club meeting. (Randal Seyler Photo)
High school graduation rates in New Mexico are low, and improving the graduation rates in Roswell is a concern for Pat Lujan, director of instruction for the Roswell Independent School District.
In 2012, New Mexico had an average freshman graduation rate of less than 70 percent, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.
“We had 64 students apply to drop out last year,” Lujan told the Roswell Kiwanis Club members on Tuesday. “I met with everyone of those students and their parents, and discussed the requirements and regulations, and guess how many of those students stayed in the program to complete their GED? Just one.”
Students leave high school for a number of reasons, but one of the excuses Lujan hears most often is that the student wants to go to work.
“They say school is boring, and the teachers aren’t teaching them anything,” Lujan said. “But a majority of the time, they also say they are ready to go to work.”
Oftentimes, Lujan is seeing students who are working to help keep their families fed, and sometimes those high school students are also the primary breadwinner for their families, and are responsible for feeding their brothers and sisters.
“When you have children facing those types of responsibilities, you see the magnitude of the problem.”
High school dropouts in New Mexico face a 13 percent unemployment rate and earn an average income of $11,426, according to the state Public Education Department website. Nearly every good job requires some certification, license, apprenticeship, associate’s degree, or other advanced credential.
“You can’t even join the military today without a high school diploma,” Lujan said.
Unfortunately, more often than not, high school dropouts become a burden on the taxpaying citizens, Lujan said, either because they cannot get employed and wind up on welfare or because they become involved in criminal activities. Keeping students in school and engaged not only makes life better for that student, but it lifts up the entire community.
Lujan, with an education career spanning 40 years, came back to the Roswell district after retiring following a 36-year stint as teacher, coach and administrator in elementary, middle and high schools. Growing up in a family with 14 siblings, Lujan said he knew firsthand the draw students have toward dropping out — he had five siblings who failed to complete high school.
“The difference was, once they dropped out, my father made them go to work the very next day,” Lujan said. “And they were expected to pay rent and pay for expenses; there wasn’t any laying around the house.”
Another program the district has implemented is geared toward ending bullying in the school district, Lujan said.
“It was about four years ago we realized we needed to have this program, and we were ahead of the curve,” Lujan said. The program was implemented in all the district’s schools and grade levels, with an emphasis on teaching children when to report bullying and who to report it to.
However, even with the program in place, bullying still occurs, Lujan said, although overall the program seems to be working. “The program is up and running and I feel it is very successful,” Lujan said. The faculty works with parents and students to determine a plan of action to end bullying, but with both problems — bullying and drop-outs — the responsibility ultimately falls to the student, and oftentimes, the student does not have the necessary character traits to succeed.
“When I was young, my parents taught me responsibility, integrity, and they taught me that to be successful I was going to have to work at it and do whatever it took,” Lujan said. “Now, too many of these young people aren’t willing to do the work. When I talk to them about credit recovery programs, or the GED program, I tell them that if they are willing to take the courses online for credit or study the GED materials for the test, then they can succeed. However, too many of them just aren’t willing to do the work.”