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Bullock, Juneau urge students to graduate

POLSON — Sheets of rain didn’t discourage Governor Steve Bullock or Denise Juneau, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, as they spoke at the Polson Graduation Matters Kickoff Celebration Thursday.

Governor Bullock, raindrops dripping from his head, told Polson kids, “I’m counting on you to be a success, not a statistic. It’s important to all of Montana that you succeed because you will define what Montana looks like in the years to come.” 

Bullock’s administration advocates more jobs and more education, he said in an interview later. In the long term, education gets doors open and options open, he added.   

The bleachers at the PHS Athletic Complex were full of whooping and hollering fifth through twelfth graders and a group of sixth graders sat on the track.

“Pirates are used to water,” Juneau said with a smile as she began to speak. 

Juneau believes students should graduate, and she said Polson is one of 33 Montana schools that have a Graduation Matters program. Her office supports the program “that begins from the grassroots up.” Each school is allowed to decide how to best help their students and advocates a community network as well as an academic network for kids.

Polson School District 23 received a $5,000 Graduation Matters Challenge Grant from the Montana Office of Public Instruction and has set a goal “of reducing the dropout rate by 10 percent and decreasing the number of students who are credit-deficient by 15 percent,” according to a press release.

OPI received $450,000 over three years from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to support community-based Graduation Matters initiatives. 

Describing herself as a “fierce supporter of education,” Dr. Kelly Bagnell, local ob-gyn and former Polson school board trustee, told a personal story. Bagnell’s parents had seven children, and her mother passed away when Bagnell was small, a tragedy for her family.  

“If it hadn’t been for my dad and his higher education,” Bagnell said, the family would have had a much tougher time.

“Your education stays with you for ever and ever,” she said, urging kids to stay in school.

Also speaking to students were Rex Weltz, PHS Principal and Polson Middle School Principal Darry Dupuis.

After adjourning to return to classes, three PHS frosh shared their take on the Graduation Matters Kickoff. 

Scott Sicz said he was going to graduate anyway as did Kiana Snyder. Snyder commented that the kickoff was “very positive.”Aunika Corrigan said the presentations made her decide to graduate. 

 Interim PMS Principal Jesse Yarborough spearheaded the Polson Graduation Matters committee. He said the schools and the community need to develop a “pro-graduation culture.” 

Some kids relate to their parents and or their teachers, but other students might talk to a fellow employee, an employer, a community member or a friend’s parent and request help or guidance. 

If the Graduation Matters message is community-wide, that student can be encouraged and helped to graduate. 

“Graduation is important for all kids,” Yarborough said.

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