On Graduation Day

This article is the board chairman’s speech for Trego’s graduation.  It comes after a year of strife and the board’s decision to move to a new model of education that recognizes the level of expertise and education that is present within our community.  The era of the single-classroom generalist teacher has passed.  We’ve recognized that our school will be better integrated into the community by accepting the 21st Century and hiring adjunct faculty to teach the specialized classes our students need as they move from 5th through 8th grades.  Call Shari at 882-4713 if you’re interested in being part of the team – you may have a great idea that hasn’t crossed our minds.

Fifty-nine years ago, I graduated from Trego’s eighth grade.  The graduation speaker was a forester, who seemed to be directing his remarks to Marvin Osler, explaining that Osler Brothers Mill wouldn’t be there for his career.  He was right – as I drive by the old mill site, I see a Koocanusa Brewery building and sign where the Osler brothers once supplied dimension lumber to the nation.

I graduated from a different building, with 3 classrooms down where the outside basketball hoops grow from the asphalt.  This school building came along three years later, as Trego became a boom town for the tunnel and railroad relocation projects. 

I think of the sawmills that are gone – Ksanka, Osler Brothers, Tobacco River, Stevens, Owens & Hurst – and how the timber industry powered the economy in the valley.   Now, the Economic Research Service classifies us as recreational, government dependent and retirement destinations for the economic drivers. Trego school remains.

A century ago, my mother was finishing the first grade at Trego.  I don’t know how much she learned, but I recall two stories.  The first was seeing a bear as she walked to school, and how her teacher didn’t believe her.  “There aren’t any bears in Trego.”  The second was a tale of technology – you see, toilet paper was a new technology in 1922, and that same teacher was teaching students to use that new technology.  One square per trip to the outhouse.  I don’t recall the teacher’s name – but I do recall the lesson that my mother didn’t accept.  I guess we could say that the teacher was preparing her students for the great covid toilet paper shortage of 2020.

A century ago, Trego’s main industry was transportation – specifically transporting logs to Eureka from the old dam on the Dickinson place.  Picture if you can – the gates of the dam blasted open with a dynamite charge, and a crew riding that small flood filled with logs for the 20 mile trip to Eureka.  The dam was last used around 1954 – that industry is gone.  The one-room log school of the twenties burned.  Trego school remains.

Marvin went on to become a teacher – he completed his master’s quite a while before I got mine.  Mom went on to nursing school in Spokane – along with the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Navy put a hospital in grass huts at Milne Bay in New Guinea.  Trego’s home industries were gone – but education pushed their way into future careers. 

The eighth grade is the first big step.  When public education began, it was the step into the working world.  Now, it’s the step into high school.  Congratulations.  You are Trego’s final graduate of the old model.  It was a good system, serving the purpose of preparing young people for the working world.  Still, we probably should have made the change from the 19th century model at least 20 years ago.

The students you’re leaving behind are going to enter a different world of education – and the first change will be learning from specialized teachers instead of generalist elementary teachers for fifth grade up.

Our first goal is that our eighth grade graduates will have the opportunity to bring a credit in algebra and a foreign language credit with them as they enter high school.  Not everyone will pass high school algebra in the eighth grade – but if you do, that credit travels with you.  We’re looking at filling that fifth block with a foreign language that can travel with you to high school.

The friends you leave can expect classes based on blocks and a trimester system.  Imagine for a moment, having a professional wildlife biologist teaching life science for thirteen weeks, then getting 13 weeks of Newtonian physics, followed by 13 weeks of earth science from a geologist.  The friends you leave behind will be moving into an exciting world that takes them further into the sciences.

Social studies – this is my area . . . I became a sociologist and demographer – but next year, the friends you leave behind will move into social studies as well as history.  Think for a moment of 13 weeks specializing in Montana history . . . of 13 weeks learning enough economics that you could CLEP the first college course . . . CLEP?  College Level Examination Program – your friends might not learn enough at Trego to take the test and get credit – but I’m betting at least half of them would.  Between the blocks and the trimesters, your friends will have experts preparing them for high school.  In college, the teachers would be called adjunct faculty – coming in to teach what they are really, really good at teaching – subjects that they love.

Math?  I spent 3 years with dear Mrs. Price – and may have moved ahead 3 months.  Picture a math program that includes the real world applications of surveying, of forestry, of statistics.  Math is power, math is fun – and next year, Trego’s students will be studying math in ways that use real world applications that make math fun and relevant.

English?  Three teachers over a year let us have a teacher who loves grammar, a teacher who loves teaching speech and drama, and another who teaches writers.

I haven’t even started on the afternoon half-blocks.  Picture a two-hour block taught by a professional artist on Monday, moving to Tuesday’s music class.  When I went to High School from Trego, band wasn’t an option for me – I hadn’t taken the required classes in Junior High.  We will be correcting that long-term omission.  Picture 13 weeks of learning electrical wiring, followed by another 13 weeks emphasizing solar energy.  I could go on – 3 trimesters and 5 blocks each week will let us offer fifteen artistic,  vocational and PE classes each year.  Who knows?  We may even rebuild the greenhouse and get some horticulture going.

The 21st Century perspective offers opportunities.  We can’t out-Eureka Eureka.  Eureka has a century of experience at developing outstanding athletic teams.  We can’t out-Fortine Fortine – they still have their first school building in operation.  Our first burned down, and our second was dismantled by Tommy and LeeRoy.  We’re moving on to be the best Trego we can be.

This summer will see some additions to the playground – centered around the idea of individual, life-long sports.  A combination frisbee golf and pitch and putt course will be set up – forms of golf that don’t require a lot of travel or expense (or break windows).  We’re looking at a cross-country ski course for our students – I’ll cheerfully admit that the ability to use cross-country skis kept me employed for six or seven years.  We’re talking about adding air-rifle training – all activities that qualify as PE and can be added to the afternoon half-blocks.

Fifty-nine years between us – and we’re both examples of the old model.  That’s OK – previous graduates have shown that you can go anywhere from here.  The world will provide you a living – you just have to work every day to collect it.  Grab it with both hands – you’re the last of the old model.  From your peer, over 50 years in the past, my heartfelt “Congratulations.”  I envy the things that you will see.

1 thought on “On Graduation Day”

  1. These ideas sound just awesome! I have a once run which I don’t see manifesting in this speech. But, a concern. That Trego does not teach the socialist/communist ideals that will set children up to be the obedient robots of a globally ruled world. I hope there will be studies on our national history – flawed in many places as it was and is. I hope children will taught why this country exists and a sense of pride and ownership of it. As well as the concepts of freedom and responsibility and education and hard work and respect for something spiritual that makes for a successful life.


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