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Wyoming Graduation Rates Climb, Challenges Persist

Wyoming Department of Education

Wyoming high school graduation rates saw a slight increase in 2017 from the previous year, according to data released by the Wyoming Department of Education. That continues a four-year trend of improvement, bringing the statewide rate up to 80.2 percent.


Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said the state is working towards an 88 percent statewide graduation rate in the next 15 years. 20 of Wyoming's 48 districts already meet or exceed that goal, and the majority of districts don't trail far behind, but challenges persist for some schools.


School districts Niobrara #1 and Big Horn #1 only graduate close to half their students on time, but they also offer virtual education programs. Those students often follow a less traditional path to graduation, which may lower the on-time graduation rates in those districts. A bill passed during the 2017 Legislative Session now allows the Wyoming Department of Education to pull data specifically on virtual education students, which in coming years should help to clarify graduation rates for those districts.


Schools on the Wind River Reservation have some of the lowest graduation rates in the state. In 2017, the WDE conducted several listening sessions to further understand the challenges Native American students face. Participants shared stories about the ongoing impact of historical trauma on native people.


Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said her department is working with those districts to support tribal learners. Fremont School District #14, for example, is one of the districts in the state that has seen the most significant improvement, with a jump in graduation rates from 35 percent to 63 percent over the last two years. Superintendent Owen St. Clair said schools are intervening earlier and offering more support.


“We’re trying to get more one-on-one counseling for our students, not only mental [health] counseling, but academic support as well. They go hand in hand.”


St. Clair said having staff who form meaningful relationships with students makes all the difference, as well as working with them to envision future goals.


“We actually have a college [and] career readiness fair,” said St. Clair. “So we’re trying to expose our students to as many colleges and careers on a more consistent basis so we can expose our kids to what’s happening after high school.”


He said he wants students to plan for opportunities that will be within reach once they have a high school diploma in hand.


Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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