Graduation Matters rolls out in the middle schools

2013-03-27T20:00:00Z 2013-03-28T08:52:04Z Graduation Matters rolls out in the middle schoolsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

They didn't want to show too much enthusiasm — they're young teenagers, after all, and have a certain level of cool to maintain. 

However, Alicia Contreraz and Kiesha Old Crane, Riverside Middle School eighth-graders, weren't shy about vocalizing their desire to graduate from high school.

"You get further in life," Alicia said. 

"Better jobs with better pay," Kiesha added. 

The two girls had just signed pledges after a schoolwide assembly promoting Graduation Matters Billings, a local campaign to boost high school graduation rates. 

As part of the campaign, students sign cards pledging to graduate from high school and then keep them as a reminder of the promise. Their names also get entered into a drawing for prizes. 

It appealed to Alicia and Kiesha. Both come from families with no history of high school graduation.

"I want to be the first," Alicia said.

"Same here," Kiesha echoed.

During the assembly, teachers were wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts emblazoned with the logos of the colleges they attended. Student body officers — all seniors — from Senior High and West High hyped the high school experience and talked about getting ready to graduate. 

West High cheerleaders cheered Riverside honor roll students, and the Senior High drum line got the whole student body on its feet.

"Today it's all about Graduation Matters," Riverside Principal Sharon Tietema bellowed out. "It really does matter. It affects your future."

The Riverside student council performed a skit that mocked a job interview and put the emphasis on having as much education as possible. 

"We have to make education more relevant to their futures," Tietema said. 

A Graduation Matters grant given to School District 2 middle schools has allowed the principals there to expose their students to high school and college.

Through the grant, every eighth-grader in the district had the chance to tour a college campus and see what life there is like. And the middle schools have put on assemblies bringing in high schoolers and encouraging students to sign the graduation pledges.   

The Graduation Matters initiative is a state program designed to cut Montana’s drop-out rate in half by 2014.

The program focuses on bringing community stakeholders together with schools and students to help high-schoolers want to stay in class.

Missoula Public Schools designed the program in 2009, and after showing early success State Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau adopted it as the state model in 2010.

In the past couple of years, individual communities have taken the program and tailored it to their own towns and schools.

Tietema sees her students catching the vision and hopes to build on the momentum. Part of that, she said, will be involving parents, who have a unique influence on their children. 

"We have to work together," she said. "We really have to work together."

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