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Community increases high school's graduation rate to 92 percent

By Devon Dolan | Posted - Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:41pm

SPANISH FORK — A community has almost tripled a high school's graduation rate. In 1998, only 37 percent of Native Americans in the Nebo School District were graduating. Eileen Quintana, who was hired by the district, was first to notice the startling success rate.

"They weren't sure of society in their life," said Quintana, Title VII founder.

Quintana found when students left elementary for middle school they had less one-on-one time with the teacher. Also, their cultural influence was no longer part of the classroom, and the Native American students felt out of place.

Quintana started going door to door to bring students into a summer program where they could get extra help with their studies. The first year, 87 students enrolled in Title VII.

"The second year 40 percent graduation rate," said Quintana.

A homework lab was offered for after school hours. Dance, art and music became regular lessons. Within four years, the graduation rate grew to 92 percent. The graduation rate has since never dropped below 80 percent. Now, more than 100 kids are registered.

"We learn how to dance and more about our culture," said eighth-grader Shakotah Billie.

"We do our homework and then we can practice our dances," said 10th-grader Raven Sky-Billie.

The traditional songs and dances help the students discover who they are.

"It helps them remember where they came from," said the mother of a student, Natalie Billie.

They connect their heritage with the lessons they learn in textbooks. And with the extra help on their studies by willing parents and teachers, their success has almost tripled.

"There's no way anybody, just one person can do this," Quintana said.

The program started with only $9,000. Now each of the students average about $187. They also raised money for scholarships for seniors to attend college.

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