The state Office of Public Instruction has awarded two local schools funding to help retain students and improve graduation in a program a local official said already has helped more students graduate.
"It has (made a difference), and we are lucky to be working with the (Havre) Middle School on it," Havre High School Principal Craig Mueller said this morning.
Havre High and Box Elder High School each received $5,000 grants to use in their Graduation Matters programs.
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau created the program in 2010 in an effort to improve graduation rates. She said in press releases announcing the grants it already has seen success statewide.
Montana's graduation rate has improved from 80.2 percent in 2010 to 83.9 percent in 2012, the release reports. In the 2011-2012 school year, the number of dropouts decreased by more than 130 students.
In the first year of the program in Havre, it helped five students chose not to drop out, 40 reduce their credit deficiencies, and 133 eighth-graders take the pledge to graduate, the release says.
Mueller said, in Havre, one focus is on helping eighth-graders transition to high school, including a plan this spring to bring the students to the high school while it is in session to see the building, see how things run and give them the chance to talk to students and teachers.
Part of the grant awarded this year will be to help with that transition from middle to high school, Mueller said, as well as working with fifth-graders in their transition to sixth grade at the middle school.
The focus in the high school primarily is on underclassmen and juniors, Mueller said, including talking to them to find out what will help and what the problems are.
By the time a student is a senior, if he or she has decided to drop out, it likely is too late, he said.
The press release said Havre High's goals are to reduce the dropout count to fewer than 20 students and to reduce the percentage of students who are credit-deficient by 50 percent by the summer of 2014. The program plans to use the Challenge Fund grant to achieve this goal by connecting high school seniors with eighth-graders who need additional academic support and organizing an I Pledge to Graduate event for eighth-graders, along with the tour of the high school.
Additionally, the program will promote the importance of parent-teacher conferences, hold open houses and host a freshman interest night.
Box Elder set a goal to reduce its dropout rate and rate of credit-deficient students by 10 percent. The program plans to use the Challenge Fund grant to develop school and community business relationships, promote Graduation Matters, hold I Pledge to Graduate events, and for professional development. To engage parents, elders and community members in their efforts, Graduation Matters Box Elder plans to hold three community dinners.