EDUCATION & SCHOOLS

How Roy High boosted graduation rates from 70% to 92%

May 22, 2024, 2:12 PM | Updated: 3:05 pm

ROY – Samantha Mata would be the first to tell you, there was no way she would graduate from high school.

“I fell so far behind, so much more than any senior should,” she said.

That’s why it was a tearful prospect to realize her name would be called at Roy High’s graduation this week.

Samantha Mata and her mentor, Kristine Kitchens, pose to celebrate Samantha’s graduation from Roy High School. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

“They never lost hope in me,” she said with emotion. “I had lost hope in myself.”

Roy High has a mantra: “One Town. One Team. One Dream. Everyone Graduates.”

Principal Brenda Hart says that isn’t just talk. “We’re going to watch you all the way to graduation day,” she said.

The commitment has paid dividends. Less than a decade ago, 70% of students graduated from Roy High. That means in a class of nearly 500 students, 125 wouldn’t make it. This week, 92% of students are getting their diplomas.

They credit the Roy Cone project, named after the effort, which is designed to align all the feeder schools into Roy High. Every school hired student mentors and teachers, whose job is to be a caring adult in the life of a student.

(KSL TV)

“We are all on the same page so that we’re targeting the growth of students and getting ready and prepared for graduation,” said Hart.

For teachers, that has meant getting much more involved with their students. Teacher Madison Robins attends dance recitals, football games and other extracurriculars because she knows she can better teach students when they share a connection.

“To not just teach, but to get to have conversations about what’s going on in their life,” said Robins.

They also make home visits to show they care.

Samantha’s mentor was instrumental in helping her know exactly what she had to do to get caught up. And she daily conveyed confidence in Samanatha, even if it meant tracking her down somewhere in the school to do it.

“She has done the hard work, we’ve just been there encouraging her along the way,” said Kristine Kitchens.

The second key has been learning the root causes of why students don’t attend school, because they can’t graduate if they don’t come to class.

“There’s a reason, there’s a why. We’ve got to find the why,” said Hart.

Brenda Hart, the principal of Roy High School, spoke with Deanie Wimmer about the Roy Cone project, which bumped graduation rates from 70% to 92%. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

Sometimes those reasons are complex home situations. Other times, there are tangible barriers schools can help remove. Hart shared the example of an at-risk student who had a noticeable change in demeanor. Turns out, it had been raining and the student had holes in his shoes. They were able to get him a new pair of shoes to help him.

A community leader donated private money to start the Roy Cone program, mainly to hire more mentors and teachers. Now they sustain it through a federal grant.

Weber District’s relentless efforts have paid off in impressive numbers and new possibilities for students who might not have graduated without the support network.

“If you told the 16-year-old me that she would be up there on that stage, she’d be like, you’re lying,” said Samantha. “’She made it!’ That’s going to be running through my mind.”

The Roy Cone graduation results have caught the attention of other districts, including Granite. They have formally launched their efforts to align the cities of South Salt Lake, Millcreek, Holladay, and Murray to form a similar network around Cottonwood High, where the graduation rate is 78%.

Two years ago, Samantha Mata did not think should would graduate with her class. Thanks to the Roy Cone project, she received her diploma this week. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

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How Roy High boosted graduation rates from 70% to 92%