“That’s not just some new policy idea — those are actual children, and they’re starting kindergarten soon.
“Someone should follow them.”
OPB editor Rob Manning said that more than a decade 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 tenth 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. At the same time, 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 high school sophomores all over the country, they’re dealing with one of the most challenging times of their young lives. And if you haven’t caught everything over the last ten years, here’s a look back:
Ninth grade: In our first in a series of video documentaries on high school, OPB looked at high school through the eyes of students and teachers... as they peeked over the top of N95 masks. The 100% graduation goal is starting to feel more personal for these students, as they learn their own strengths and interests, and how they fit with their own life goals,
Eighth grade: OPB education reporter Elizabeth Miller produced a podcast season looking at the Class of 2025 as it navigates middle school during a pandemic. Students confronted the significant learning and social challenges of doing school from home, as they deal with teen life without the usual in-person network of friends and teachers.
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 in the summer after second grade, “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 be more than tracking their reading and math progress, it would follow their childhoods.