August push at McKay means more graduates for Class of 2019

Ruth Langmoir, an August 2019 McKay High School graduate, gets a hug from graduation coach Ken Ramirez after earning her diploma. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

It took her principal dragging her out of bed to get her there, but Angel Hance Route is now a high school graduate.

She was one of eight McKay High School students who earned 2019 diplomas Tuesday night, as a school board meeting was briefly transformed into a miniature graduation ceremony, complete with cheering parents and celebratory leis.

“I feel, like, so relieved,” she said before the meeting began as her niece, Claudeia, played with a pen on her lap.

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The latest graduates finished high school in August as part of a new push from McKay administrators to help students who were a class or two shy of finishing school get everything done without having to become fifth-year seniors.

McKay is the largest of Salem-Keizer’s six traditional high schools and has the second-lowest graduation rate: about three-quarters finish in four years. Boosting that number has been a priority for staff.

Mia Route gives her daughter, Angel Hance Route, a lei following her August 2019 graduation during a Salem-Keizer School Board meeting. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

READ: “Whatever it takes”: McKay staff push seniors toward August graduation

Principal Rob Schoepper worked with assistant principals, teachers and other staff to identify a small group of students who were close to graduating but either hadn’t been able to attend summer school or had a bit more work to do after summer programs ended.

Of the nine they identified, eight showed up to the McKay library and earned their diplomas.

“If they showed up, they made it,” said assistant principal Jerimy Kelley.

McKay High School Principal Rob Schoepper presents Alejandra Cuesta Meraz with her diploma at a Salem-Keizer School Board meeting (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Hance Route finished her senior year three credits short. She tried to complete the work in summer school, but struggled because she didn’t have a computer at home to do the work, or transportation.

On the first day of the August push, she didn’t show up at the McKay library on time, so Schoepper and graduation coach Ken Ramirez drove to her house and knocked on the door to get her out of bed. But once she came in, she finished quickly — it only took her three days to get the work done.

Assistant principal Wendy Stradley said they plan to repeat the effort next summer. But McKay administrators are also talking about identifying students like Hance Route earlier and finding ways to help those for whom summer school is challenging because they need childcare or have jobs.

After shaking the hands of McKay administrators, Superintendent Christy Perry and every member of the school board, Hance Route met her cousin and mother at the end of the line and smiled as they draped leis around her neck.

“I’m excited, proud,” her mother, Mia Route, said. “Finally!”

Asher Padilla Esparza, an August 2019 McKay High School graduate, celebrated with McKay High School staff. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

McKay 2019 August graduates

Esperanza Martinez

Alejandra Cuesta-Meraz

Misael Manzano

Toni Cedillo

Asher Padilla Esparza

Angel Hance Route

Ruth Langmoir

Jamayca Jackson

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.