The state of Oregon has set an ambitious goal to graduate 100 percent of high school students by the year 2025. OPB is following more than two dozen six and seven-year-olds who are in the class of 2025. For the next twelve years, OPB aims to follow these students, in school and at home. These are some of their stories from first grade.
Earl Boyles first grader Ava is a sunny kid, who loves to run and dance with her friends, but is happiest when she’s making up stories.
“I’m pretty good at making books and writing,” she says, proudly displaying her latest, which is titled “How Much I Love You.”
She wrote it for her mom, April Shattuck.Ava Reading From Her Book
“I love you more than cupcake, and sheep,” she reads. That’s high praise. Sheep are her favorite animals.
Ava’s mom is there for her when she gets home from school, for her birthday party at a bowling alley and at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to help her discover the way the world looks from a bug’s point of view.
But when Ava goes to sleep at night, her mother leaves for her other job, working the graveyard shift at The Roxy, a diner in downtown Portland.
“I’ve done everything in this place from cleaning the toilets to doing the payroll, the schedule. I make more money when I waitress,” she says.
Her mom owns the Roxy, and April Shattuck has waited tables since she was a teenager. Shattuck didn’t finish high school, so this is also a job for which she is qualified.
While she is at work, the kids’ dad, Chris Shattuck, is home. The two aren’t a couple any more, but after quitting his job recently, Chris moved back in with them. He’s often out the nights when April is home, doing stand-up comedy.
After her shift ends, Shattuck doesn’t get back to their home until about 5 a.m., just an hour or so before Ava needs to get up and ready for school.
And that schedule takes a toll on the whole family. Some days, despite their best efforts, it’s a struggle for the Shattucks to get going in the morning. Ava and her brother are regularly late for school, and are absent more than her teachers would like to see.
Educators consider students “chronically absent” if they’ve missed more than 10 percent of the school year. Studies show students who miss a great deal of school fall behind, and are more likely to drop out of school later on. Portland-based consultants, ECONorthwest, studied Oregon student attendance patterns in 2012. That analysis found nearly a quarter of Oregon students fit the definition of “chronically absent,” and they can suffer achievement setbacks as a result.
Ava would be considered “chronically absent,” having missed just over 10 percent of school through the first three quarters of first grade. Of the days she attended, she was late 40 percent of the time. Ava is supposed to be at school by 9 a.m. at the latest, but sometimes doesn’t make it there until 10 a.m.
Even so, she’s already meeting the vast majority of literacy and math standards for first grade.
Ava And The “Author’s Chair”
When parent-teacher conferences come around in the spring, Ava’s teachers, Heather Gerritz and Nicole Rauch McGowan walk through the first grade report card and talk about the effect of the Common Core. That’s the set of standards that elementary school teachers across the David Douglas School District, and elsewhere in Oregon, are using for the first time this year.
But teachers Gerritz and Rauch McGowan also talk to Shattuck about how Ava’s writing— and a character she made up— inspired other students. The character’s name is Ellie, and once Ava started telling her classmates about Ellie’s adventures, they would ask: “What’s Ellie going to do next?”
The other students started to give Ava ideas for Ellie, too. They’d say “You should have Ellie do this in the next book you make.”
Learn More About The Common Core
The Common Core is a series of tough new learning standards that are being implemented in 45 states, including Oregon.
Visit the Shattucks’ house, and you can see Ava’s prolific writing.
April Shattuck sets a tall stack of Ava’s books on the living room coffee table. They’re made from brightly-colored construction paper, stapled together.
“These are just the ones she’s written in the last few months,” Shattuck says.
Inspired by the kids’ interest, the two teachers created an “Author’s Chair” in the classroom. It’s a special time set aside for students to share stories they’ve written outside of school. Rauch McGowan says the budding writers look forward to it.
“It’s so cool,” says Rauch McGowan. “We actually had to set time aside on Tuesdays and Fridays, for just Author’s Chair — not for anything we’re doing in the classroom. It’s for what they’re doing on their own, when they’re done with their work. All inspired by Ava. Very cool.”
Ava’s mom is pleased. “That’s one of the things she says she wants to be when she grows up, is an author,” Shattuck says.
The teachers also gently push Shattuck on Ava’s one persistent problem: The fact that she’s often late for school. The teachers say it’s improving. Ava recently went from 20 tardies in winter term to 11 in spring. Gerritz says they know that it makes Ava feel good when she arrives on time.
Shattuck takes responsibility for her daughter’s tardiness record. “It’s all on me. I mean, I work graveyard,” Shattuck says. “I get home at five in the morning.”
But Shattuck says she knows her kids need to be at school, and that they feel good when they’re at Earl Boyles.
Ava’s teachers say she’s ahead of many of her peers, but she doesn’t get bored. Hearing about it all later, her father isn’t surprised.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that girl genuinely bored by anything,” Chris Shattuck says. “She always seems to find joy in something. Even if it’s a miserable situation, she’s always got the light at the end of the tunnel. She stays positive. That’s going to take her far, I think. If she can keep that, it’ll serve her really well.”
This project is part of American Graduate — Let’s Make It Happen! — a public broadcasting initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.