Eagle Valley High graduation rate soars | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley High graduation rate soars

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailySenior Tandra Thompson, right, presents her history teacher Ashley Weaver, left, with flowers at Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum. Thompson said she wanted to show her gratitude to Weaver, as well as her British literature teacher Mary-Ann Stavney, for making a difference in life.

GYPSUM, Colorado ” The graduation rates at Eagle Valley High School are among the highest in Colorado, especially among Hispanic students, who at most schools have much lower graduation rates than their peers.

In 2006, the average graduation rate in Colorado was 74.1 percent, and for Hispanic students, it was much lower ” 56.7 percent.

Eagle Valley though had a graduation rate of 87.6 in 2006, and had a Hispanic graduation rate of 82.8 ” more than 25 points above average. In 2005, more than 85 percent of Hispanic students graduated at Eagle Valley.

This is significant, especially considering the achievement gap that exists between Hispanic students and Caucasian students in Eagle County and in the state. Many Hispanic students aren’t proficient in English and usually lag behind other students on standardized tests well into high school, test scores show.

The high Hispanic graduation rate is a good indication that the school has been able to make connections with students, especially those who may be struggling, and keep them in school, Principal Mark Strakbein said.

So, how does a school maintain a high graduation rate and reel in students who may be tempted to leave?

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific program or policy at the school that explains a high graduation rate ” it’s really about a philosophy that all the teachers there stick to, a philosophy that demands that they get to know their students and not let them fall through the cracks. “We ask two things of our teachers ” to be experts in their content and to make relationships with our students,” Strakbein said.

Teachers at Eagle Valley spends a lot of time making connections with students ” talking with them, making them feel missed when they aren’t there, pushing them to get involved in extra curricular activities and showing that they’ll intervene if something goes wrong.

If a student is failing a class, teachers will get them into tutoring. If students seem uninterested in school ” teachers and coaches will encourage them to participate by joining a team or a club or helping out after school.

In some cases, they’ll even use what they call a “silent intervention” program. If a student is struggling, teachers will get together, talk about it and try to help the student without him or her realizing it ” sort of an unintrusive form of counseling.

John Ramunno has been a football coach and PE teacher for years, and one of the most important parts of his job is making sure students feel like they’re a part of the school.

When students are involved, and feel like they’re a part of a team, they’ll keep coming back. “If we get them involved with extra curricular activities, they’ll buy into school, and they’ll work harder in class,” Ramunno said. “We care about how that student is doing in math, biology, history, and that is huge.”

The football team had a winning season last year, but didn’t make the playoffs. That’s tough for a coach and team ” but what’s more important to Ramunno is seeing the students walk across the stage at graduation, especially those who he and other teachers stuck with and helped get through high school.

“As an athlete, they pretty much get on our butt to keep up with everything, and it helped a lot,” said senior Nick Whitehead. “I didn’t have a moment of failure because everyone was helping me out, and there’s definitely times I could have given up.”

Whitehead is a football player ” but somehow got himself on the ski team this year, which really helped keep him focused, he said.

“You have to stay active, or you get lazy and go down the wrong path,” Whitehead said.

Senior Kapena Woolsey said his teachers and coaches helped him get through high school, and helped him step out of his comfort zone.

“It started with weightlifting my freshman year ” at first I was intimidated by the seniors, but once they got me in there, I did all my work just fine, and it was fun,” Woolsey said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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