The year they all finish high school — ‘Class Of 2025’

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Nov. 23, 2020 10:04 p.m.

OPB is following a group of 27 students as they navigate Oregon’s public school system.

OPB's Class Of 2025 project has been documenting the growth of 27 students who started school together in Southeast Portland for 8 years.

OPB's Class Of 2025 project has been documenting the growth of 27 students who started school together in Southeast Portland for 8 years.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

“That’s not just some new policy idea — those are actual children, and they’re starting kindergarten soon.

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“Someone should follow them.”

OPB editor Rob Manning said that nine years ago, after Oregon set a goal that 100% of students would finish high school, starting with seniors graduating in 2025. What seemed like an offhand comment led to OPB’s own odyssey: a long-term multimedia project called the “Class Of 2025,” now in its eighth year.

OPB has followed 27 students since they started elementary school in 2012. Over that time, many of them have changed schools, sometimes more than once. Kids have endured divorce and domestic violence, job losses and even tragic deaths. But they’ve become older brothers or favorite aunts, peer confidants and language interpreters. They’ve learned what they’re good at — and worked on what’s hard. We used to have to crouch down to talk to them. Now they’re at eye level or taller.

Like eighth graders all over the country, they’re dealing with one of the most challenging times of their young lives. OPB education reporter Elizabeth Miller has produced a podcast season looking at Class of 2025 as it navigates middle school during a pandemic. So sign up for that.

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And if you haven’t caught everything over the last eight years, here’s a look back:

Seventh grade: The “middle of middle school” can be a time when young people start to really find what they like to do, and educators hope they find something to like about school. For a number of OPB’s Class Of 2025 students, it was music.

Sixth grade: Many Oregon children endure traumatic experiences outside of school that can have a huge impact on their lives inside of school. That was the case with Ethan, who experienced homelessness, and Dale, whose home life was upended by domestic violence. School itself touched an iconic Oregon experience, with sixth graders attending Outdoor School, where learning to be away from home is as important as the environmental science lessons.

Fifth grade: The end of elementary school for many students in the Class Of 2025 meant leaving the only school they’d known. We produced a video on what the end of elementary school — and the prospect of middle school — meant for two of our students, Ava and Munira.

Fourth grade: One of the biggest challenges with schools is that they’re big institutions with a mandate to teach every child. Problem is that no two students are the same, and meeting individual needs can be hard for such a big system. For instance, many smart, hard-working students struggle with reading, including Class Of 2025 Shelby, because of the reading challenge of dyslexia. Her story was one of several situations OPB explored in-depth, in our first podcast season following fourth grade.

Third grade: For public schools across the country, third grade is when an unpopular ritual begins: annual standardized tests. Schools use them to address shortcomings in instruction or get support to specific students. What do kids think of them? “I feel horrible,” Class Of 2025 student Jason told us. “I don’t like tests.”

Second grade: While it was thrilling to capture fun parts of second grade, like field day, we also saw school getting tougher and students responding with resolve, including Osvaldo, who told us, “I think I will graduate, I think I will get a job, and I think I will be successful with my job.”

First grade: It was in first grade with our faithful cohort of at least 27 kids that we started asking them, year after year, that seemingly cliche question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In first grade, we filmed their answers. We also got intimate portraits of several students, including Kaylie, whose health difficulties literally meant she learned to read in a hospital bed, and cousins Octavio and Ashley who were growing up speaking Spanish at home and English at school.

Kindergarten: Nothing makes kindergarteners stop in their tracks like a classmate losing a tooth. It was early confirmation that following a group of kids through school would mean following them through childhood, even if our first stories focused on reading, math and writing.

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