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Wyoming’s Graduation Rate Slightly Increased In 2021

in News/Education

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a slight uptick in its high school graduation rate for 2021, marking the eighth consecutive year of graduation rate increases.

The state’s graduation rate increased to 82.4% in the 2020-2021 school year, a 0.1% increase over the prior school year, when it was 82.3%. The number reflects the fact that 5,913 students graduated high school during the year, while 1,261 students left school without graduating.

“I think we all know that the pandemic thrust some unique challenges on students in schools the last two years,” Kari Eakins, interim director for the Wyoming Department of Education, said during a news conference Wednesday. “This continued improvement shows just how highly we value education in this state. High school graduation is one of the most important achievements in a student’s life.”

Wyoming’s graduation rate remains below the national the national average of 86%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The national average number is for the 2018-2019 school year, as it takes longer for national data to be compiled, Eakins noted.

The lowest graduation rates in the state were found among homeless students at 61.3%, students learning the English language, 61.3%, and American Indian students, 52.9%.

Eakins blamed the pandemic for being at least partially responsible for Wyoming schools failing to address dropout rates among these groups.

“We know that a lot of students had homes that didn’t have solid broadband connections or the atmosphere that they needed to conduct their schoolwork in a good manner,” she said. “Obviously if you’re a homeless student, I would imagine that struggle is even greater. For English language learners and a lot of other students that needed special services, it was more difficult to deliver those during the pandemic.”

The graduation rates for homeless and Native American students actually dropped over the last year.

However, 17 Wyoming school districts posted graduation rates of 90% or above. Sheridan County School District No. 3 in Clearmont and Washakie County School District No. 2 in Ten Sleep both had 100% graduation rates last year.

Eakins pointed to Converse County School District 2 in Glenrock as a prime example of one district that has significantly increased its graduation rate in recent years. The district had a graduation rate of 94% for the most recent school year, an increase of 12% in just a few years.

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Wyoming Schools Plan In-Person Graduation As COVID Loosens Its Grip

in News/Coronavirus

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There’s not been a lot that’s happened over the last 14 months in Wyoming that could be considered “normal.” But in the last few weeks, conditions have inched a little closer.

With declines in coronavirus cases and a growing percentage of Wyoming residents obtaining the COVID vaccine, institutions are opening back up and loosening the restrictions that were in place to slow the spread of the illness.

Nursing homes are being allowed to provide short visitation periods, students can enjoy school dances and in-person graduation ceremonies again, and more schools are winning approval to end requirements for mask use.

One of the biggest changes from last year is the planning for in-person graduation ceremonies across the state.

While last year saw students attend virtual events or sit in cars to watch commencement speakers, full, in-person ceremonies are being planned at various schools, including Central Wyoming College, Casper College and Laramie County Community College.

The University of Wyoming will hold in-person commencement ceremonies, but will also offer a “hybrid” option for graduates to be recognized virtually.

Also opening graduation ceremonies to the public is Northwest College, said public information officer Carey Miller.

“We heard from our 2020 graduates that they were sad about not getting to have the same experience,” she explained. “So we decided early on that we wanted to try and give them the best experience that we possibly could — and do in person graduation.”

Miller said state rules will allow up to 500 people in the Cabre Gym, where the ceremony will be held — although there will be some requirements for social distancing and mask use.

As Wyoming relies heavily on tourism, attractions that last year were shuttered or strictly limited are planning to welcome the public with outstretched arms. 

Officials with Cheyenne Frontier Days, which was canceled last year, announced the 10-day rodeo will go on as normal this year without social distancing or mask requirements for concerts, rodeos and other outdoor activities.

This is welcome news for an event that saw an over $3 million loss last year.

Vaccines have gone a long way towards returning the state to pre-pandemic status, according to Kathy Emmons, executive director for the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department

“We don’t want to have to go back to limiting businesses and things like that,” she told Cowboy State Daily earlier this month. “And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure everybody can go back to work and can go out and shop. And you can only do that if you’ve got that protection.”

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Triumph High School grads overcome adversity on the road to a diploma

in News/Education

At Triumph High School, students overcome challenges outside the classroom in addition to the academic rigors of earning a high school diploma.

Their stories are remarkable and, not long ago, the likelihood of finding them in caps and gowns today was far from certain.

“There are a lot of complicated variables. I call it a constellation of variables that intersect and make schooling sometimes very difficult for our young people,” said Triumph High Principal Mike Helenbolt.

In a pre-graduation ceremony, 2019 graduate Chasely Moon thanked her son, in addition to teachers and advisors, for giving her the motivation to stay in school and earn her degree.

“I probably wouldn’t have put forth the effort to finish if I hadn’t realized how hard it was to make a living without a high school diploma,” Moon said.

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