Feb 24, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff WriterWyoming Indian Elementary School kindergartener Chaleigha Morris said she plans to be a veterinarian when she grows up.
"I want to help puppies to feel better," she said.
And Chaleigha knows that she has to graduate high school and succeed in college.
"If you don't go to college you won't get a job," she said.
The girl's goal to save puppies one day is why she joined the rest of the Wyoming Indian student body in making a pledge to graduate high school.
School officials started Graduation Matters earlier this year in an effort to combat the downward trend in students earning diplomas and a climbing rate in dropouts.
Students and staff gathered inside the Wyoming Indian High School gymnasium Feb. 13 to sign large posters created for each graduation class. The posters will hang in the hallways of the schools until each class walks across the stage and turns their tassels.
"We need to start this now, and we've got to take a hard look at this," said Owen St. Clair Sr., WIES principal and 1990 Wyoming Indian graduate.
St. Clair said the American Indian graduation rate in Wyoming is 38 percent, the lowest nationwide.
"As people who are proud of this school and proud of the community, is that the kind of publicity we want for this school?" St. Clair asked. "No, it's not."
He recalled his dad being among others who traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1972 to advocate for a high school in Ethete. He said a significant event that motivated his father to work toward seeing a school in their community happened on a drive back from Lander. St. Clair said his parents noticed a young teen who was walking home after attending school at Lander. At that point, his father knew something had to be done.
Since opening its doors, 1,014 students have graduated WIHS. This includes the first-ever graduate, Pat Underwood. He was the only student in the school's first graduating class.
"You've got to get to school to get where you want," Underwood said.
After Wyoming Indian, Underwood attended Wyoming Technical Institute in Laramie and later enlisted in the Navy. He returned to Wyoming and served as a game warden.
Several other graduates shared their stories with students in hopes of motivating them to complete high school.
Elena Singer graduated in 1993. After college, she returned to the school district and is now in her ninth year teaching kindergarten. Singer said before the assembly, she had her students share a few reasons with her about why they felt it was important to earn a high school diploma.
"So you can get a job, be a good citizen," she recalled as some of the answers. "You have to wake up so you don't miss out."
Singer said graduation matters.
"You are the future of our people," she told the crowd. "You matter."
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