Students form a field of burgundy and gold during Crocus Plains high school's graduation ceremonies, earlier this year at the Keystone Centre.
High school graduation rates have taken a significant leap in Brandon over the past decade.
Last month, a total of 614 students, out of a possible 637, graduated from the Brandon School Division. At 96.4 per cent, it’s the highest graduation rate the division has seen in at least 20 years.
"It’s so exciting to see kids graduating from school," board of trustees chair Mark Sefton said. "And it’s fantastic to see all staff, and not just the Grade 12 teachers, but everybody committed to seeing that kids can graduate and use that as a springboard for their future."
Ten to 15 years ago, BSD was seeing rates in the 78-82 per cent range. Last year, that number was 90.5 per cent.
Associate superintendent Greg Malazdrewicz says one reason for the big jump is the way high schools have adapted to the needs of kids over the years.
"There are a range of programs … within the schools where the schools themselves are adjusting and flexing," he said. "Adjusting schedules, adjusting delivery models to work to find more ways to keep kids engaged with school and help them keep plugging along."
The Neelin High School Off Campus program has proven to be quite a success since it was launched in 2007. It’s an alternative option for students who have dropped out or are having problems in the typical high school setting. It provides flexible school days and a different learning space, with more one-on-one time with the teacher.
A total of 412 students have graduated from the off-campus program in the past five years, including 95 last month.
One of the off-campus graduates was Glenn McKinnon, 23. He had been in and out of school for several years before joining NHSOC last September.
"It was good. A better experience than I had at any of the other schools I tried," McKinnon said last month. "(The teachers) were more helpful, it was more relaxed and you just worked more on your own time than on actual time (tables). Made it more relaxing to get the stuff done."
Malazdrewicz said the division has more intervening programs now than they did a decade ago.
"So … 10 years ago, we might have been looking at saying, ‘maybe you need to take some time out of school and come back when you think you’re ready to take another stab at it,’" Malazdrewicz said. "We weren’t very flexible other than being open in terms of having students return to school at a later age, but with mature student guidelines."
High school students now have the option of taking transition programs and continuing education programs.
"They provide for much more flexible environments for kids to go in and work on credit completion, while still maintaining some engagement with traditional classes."
The number of aboriginal students graduating is growing as well, Malazdrewicz said. The division is currently crunching numbers to finalize the statistics.
Lindsay Antoine from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation graduated last month from Vincent Massey High School. The 19-year-old had previously dropped out but came back and was able to be successful with the flexible programs.
"My parents really talked me into coming back because no one in my family ever graduated," Antoine said before graduating last month. "I had a choice, either go to (the Neelin High School Off Campus program) or continue back (at Vincent Massey). I chose to come back because I wanted to finish where I started."
Malazdrewicz also credits developmental programs in the early years for the great strides.
Not all students graduate in the four-year timeline, but Malazdrewicz said that is not necessarily the goal for every student.
"(The target is) that all students graduate … it could be four, five or six years," he said.
The provincial graduation rate in June 2011 was 83.5 per cent.
Sefton wanted to acknowledge the hard work of the students and also their families.
"Having family support is critical to success and so the parents, the extended families deserve a pat on the back too," Sefton said. "Many times kids get discouraged and get down on themselves, and Mom or Dad … or whomever says ‘come on, you can do it, you’re that close, don’t give up.’ And sometimes that little bit of encouragement makes all the difference in the world."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 13, 2012