BAILEY T. O’NEILL
Special to the Banner
BENNINGTON -- Over the past five years, Mount Anthony Union High School has made great strides in ensuring more and more students earn a diploma and are prepared for life after high school.
In 2011, the high school graduated 89.3 percent of its seniors - 81.4 percent of whom graduated in four years. While the high school tries to raise these averages to match the statewide average of 93 percent and 87.5 percent respectively, the school is much closer than it was at the end of the 2006-07 academic year.
In addition to improved graduation rates, the high school has also seen positive trends with fewer students dropping out.
Since the 2006-07 academic year the dropout rate at MAUHS has been chopped in half from 8.38 percent to 3.89 percent in 2010-11 (the dropout rate in Vermont was 2.55 percent in 2010-11). In addition to improvements overall, Mount Anthony’s drop out rate among students receiving special education services has also been cut in half from 10.7 percent to 5.1 percent.
Principal Sue Maguire credits the improvement largely to the addition of alternative education programs offered at the high school.
"When I first got here I couldn’t offer anything to a kid that wanted to drop out. Now I have more options for students," said Maguire, who is credited by school board chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller in coming up with the ideas for the student center, the Twilight Program, and tutoring in the school’s library.
"The high school offers a lot more support systems to students now than it has in years past -- Freshman Academy is a large contributor to students staying in school," Oller said.
Those support systems include the Summer Bridges program, in which students who have struggled in middle school meet with high school teachers throughout the summer to meet requirements to enter the high school. Students then continue to meet with those teachers during Freshman Academy courses each day for the duration of their freshman year, in order to make the transition easier than it has been for students in the past.
The high school’s Twilight Program allows students to work during the regular school day and to do their classroom work later in the evening.
Mount Anthony’s partnership with The Tutorial Center and the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center are also factors in the continuous decline of the high school’s dropout rates -- as an increasing number of students are completing the requirements for their diploma while taking courses at one of the two locations.
The courses at the CDC are also commonly used by full-time high school students to fulfill technology or elective credits, which is an additional requirement beyond what the state mandates.
"Education has to be relevant to our students," Oller said.
One of the things that attracts student interest is the opportunity to choose electives that are relevant to their interests, whether at Mount Anthony or the CDC.
A struggle that Maguire has found in keeping students in school is the lure of immediate employment.
"We need to get all students and parents to believe that education is the key to a better life," said Maguire, who helps students stay in school by recommending these programs and offering guidance on how to earn their diploma.
"Some students’ attitude is that, ‘if I can make so much money right now, then why should I stay in school?’ and then they come back two years later because they can’t get a job. Now they’re 18 with a few credits and end up at The Tutorial Center trying to complete the requirements."
Bailey O’Neill, a senior at Mount Anthony Union High School, is an intern at The Banner.