Three Ravalli County school districts recently received substantial grants through the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s “Graduation Matters” program.
The Corvallis, Hamilton and Stevensville school districts each received money, which originally came from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation and Challenge Fund grants from State Farm Insurance, to help support various programs aimed at improving the graduation rates.
The Graduation Matters Stevensville program received $8,000, and high school principal Brian Gum said the school has set a goal of reducing the dropout rate to 2 percent and reducing the number of students who are credit-deficient to 10 students.
“We made a lot of progress this last year,” he said. “In the year previous, our dropout rate was 5.7 percent. After last year’s totals came in, we found we reduced it to 2.3 percent. Last year was our first year with the grant money. So we’ve made huge strides with the first year with a grant. We will continue to move it down. My goal is to stay within that 1- to 2-percent range. I think that’s being realistic, Getting it to zero would be fantastic, but we’re trying to be realistic.”
Last year, Graduation Matters Stevensville was successful in preventing seven students from dropping out through targeted interventions. In addition, 14 students decreased their credit deficiencies, 30 community partnerships were developed, and 933 students took the pledge to graduate, according to a statement from the OPI.
The district plans to use the funds for Graduation Matters to expand their efforts to the junior high and elementary school as well, Gum said.
“We have eighth-grade transitional meetings, where I go talk to the eighth-graders at Lone Rock,” he said. “I talk to them about the benefits of coming to Stevensville High School. Then on April 19, we have our Jacket Fair, where we have set up all our clubs and sports, and the kids can mingle and visit the school. We have fun activities, and then we finish it off with a big barbecue at the end. It gives the eighth-graders a chance to feel a little more ready for freshman orientation.”
Some of the grant money will go to support school assemblies and guest speakers, the freshman orientation program and coordination of various other Graduation Matters efforts. Both the junior high and high school also plan to tap into community support by bringing business owners in for class discussions about what businesses look for in employees, Gum said.
“On May 2, we have our business roundtable,” he explained. “We will be splitting up all of our kids around the campus and letting them hear from local business owners about what they are looking for in an employee. It’s a great way to tie in the community and the school, and give our kids a realistic look at what is waiting for them after high school.”
Graduation Matters Hamilton received $5,000, and the district has set a goal to reduce the number of students who drop out by 50 percent and bring all students who are credit-deficient up to speed by the summer of 2014.
As a result of Graduation Matters Hamilton, 1,574 students took the pledge to graduate, and a dual enrollment program was launched with Bitterroot College. The Challenge Fund grant will be used to support the School to Work Coordinator, who organizes internships and opportunities for students.
The money will also be used to host a FAFSA night to assist with the college financial aid application process, support the dual enrollment program and to provide teacher monitors for students participating in the Montana Digital Academy.
Graduation Matters Corvallis received $5,000, and the district has an ambitious but reachable goal of a 100 percent graduation rate and to ensure every student is caught up on credits by the end of the 2014 school year, according to superintendent Monte Silk.
Corvallis High School had the lowest dropout rate in the county, 1.3 percent, for the 2011-12 school year. The school will use the Challenge Fund grant to support their summer school program, the “I Pledge to Graduate” ceremonies and professional development.
In the first year of the Challenge Fund grant, Corvallis funded a summer school program which decreased the number of students who would have started the school year credit-deficient, and 115 students took the pledge to graduate, according to a statement from OPI.
In 2010, Superintendent Juneau launched the Graduation Matters Montana statewide initiative to address the state’s dropout rate and to help Montana students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.
Montana’s graduation rate has improved from 80.2 percent in 2010 to 83.9 percent in 2012. In the 2011-2012 school year, the number of dropouts decreased by more than 130 students.
In the first year of the Challenge Fund grant, Graduation Matters communities have focused on identifying students most at risk of dropping out, developing new dropout prevention strategies and interventions, building community support and offering students college and career exploration opportunities, Juneau said in a statement. Graduation Matters communities have partnered with 250 local businesses and community organizations and reduced the credit deficiencies of 642 high school students, according to OPI.
“These grants have helped jumpstart Graduation Matters initiatives across the state and are now supporting successful strategies that were implemented during the first year of the grant program,” Juneau said. “I look forward to seeing what Graduation Matters can accomplish in the second year of the Challenge Fund.”
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.