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Local students work to increase Sunnyside's graduation rates

WAHINGTON D.C. - On average, students who are absent as little as 10 percent of the school year are said to be among the most likely to become a dropout statistic.

That factor alone was a startling wake-up call for eight Sunnyside high schoolers who attended the Grad Nation summit held in Washington D.C. last week. At the four-day seminar, students said they have taken away many lessons about themselves, and about how to help and encourage their fellow students.

The mostly-sophomore student group says they felt a renewed sense of passion for their own graduation date, in addition to a sense of passion to encourage their peers to strive for that cap-and-gown day.

"If our peers succeed, it helps the community later on in life," student Hunter Zieske said. "Those who are successful may come back (to Sunnyside) and better the community."

Tenth grader Derek Ripley agreed, saying more high school graduates could mean a lower unemployment rate, locally. Specifically, Ripley said that if students graduate high school, they are more likely to attend a university or trade school, which would in turn provide more qualified employees in the work force.

As for classmate Vianca Herrera, the four-day summit inspired her to inspire others.

"I want to encourage students to aspire (for greatness)," she said.

Students and teachers learned the shocking statistics on teen dropout rates, and learned ways to combat the fate of those who are in danger of missing too much school.

Angel Carrizales, an SHS vice principal, says the group returned home from the trip excited to tackle attendance rates. One way they hope to do so is to offer incentive programs for students so more students will want to come to school.

"If you don't come to school, you can't learn," Carrizales said.

Students agreed, saying they are hoping to find creative avenues in which students become more engaged with school and learn in a positive environment.

"The saying that school doesn't take you anywhere, that's a lie," said tenth grader Claudia Rivera.

Classmate Rigo Sanchez-Cardenas agreed, saying students with negative attitudes about school are likely to bring everyone around them down, so keeping the incentive and engagement plans positive is in the best interest of the students at hand.

The students also want to see their fellow Grizzlies succeed because they genuinely care.

"Everyone deserves a chance to succeed," added Zieske.

Upon returning home, the group identified three stakeholders in the matter of high school graduation rates, they include students, staff and the community, which includes parents.

This week the team, excited about their new ideas, will present specific ideas on how they plan to implement incentive and reward programs for students with excellent attendance rates.

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