Whether it’s academics, sports or a busy social life, high school students typically have a lot hanging over their heads. Starting this year, Moffat County High School student council has added one more thing to the list.
Suspended nearly 20 feet over the high school’s main lobby is a 15-feet-wide banner that reads: “Every student will graduate.”
The banner is the most-visible aspect of the student council’s new, multifaceted initiative to raise the MCHS graduation rate.
Throughout the school year, the phrase “every student will graduate,” will be repeated over the school’s PA system during morning announcements, and administrators have been asked to include the phrase as part of their greeting when answering phones.
“In 2010, we had a graduation rate of 82.4 percent,” MCHS Principal Thom Schnellinger said.
Of the 17.6 percent of students who didn’t graduate, 14.6 percent were students whose families moved out of the community and “3 percent dropped out.”
The daily reminders to graduate aren’t just window-dressing, student council president Slade Gurr said.
Gurr, a lifelong Craig resident, is the only two-term student council president in MCHS history. He is leading the graduation intiative.
“The whole idea of the program is to make this a student-driven effort,” said Gurr, an MCHS senior.
The first step, Gurr said, was to get the goal into students’ minds. The next step is for students to embrace the goal and support each other toward it.
Gurr hopes that “positive peer pressure” and tutoring will prevent struggling students from giving up and dropping out.
If the student council’s plan seems at all flimsy or dubious, consider this: It’s working in other schools.
In June, Gurr attended the National Association of Student Councils conference in Indianapolis, where he first heard about other schools’ graduation initiatives.
Gurr said he was inspired by the event’s closing speaker, Marquita Thomas, of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Thomas, a high school counselor and student council advisor, used her speech to describe the success of her graduation initiative at Sale Creek Middle/High School in Chattanooga.
“When I first introduced (the initiative in Chattanooga), people told me, ‘That’s never going to happen,’” Thomas said.
Later that same year, “We had the biggest graduating class ever. We started the year with 38 seniors, we picked up two more students over the course of the school year, and we graduated 40.”
Thomas, who admits her school is smaller and more rural than most, said she’s seen similar initiatives work in larger schools.
Back at home, Gurr got to work.
His first step was to have a banner made, but the cost of the banner exceeded the student council’s budget. Gurr turned to the Colorado Student Center in Craig for help.
The center, run by George Avgares, is “a non-profit, after-school college-prep and tutoring program.” Avgares serves 35 students in Craig.
“I’m always trying to help out the school and the community any way I can,” Avgares said.
Avgares’s center sponsored the banner, which cost $200.
With the banner hung, the student council is now placing the initiative into the hands of fellow students.
Success will depend on students’ resolve, said Delaine Brown, MCHS registrar and student council advisor.
Students have to embrace the graduation idea, Brown said.
“This starts now,” Brown said. “Not next week, not next month. … We’re going to get 100-percent.”
Brown hopes the words “every student will graduate” will also spread throughout the community and trickle down to lower grades.
“We hope it becomes contagious,” she said.
Gurr said the initiative has been met with some resistance and skepticism.
“Even if (the response) is negative right now, we’re just happy that people are talking about it,” he said.
Gurr said he thinks students will begin accepting the idea after homecoming.
“We might not all be friends, but we all care for each other,” he said. “We all want to see everyone succeed beyond high school.”