Flowers and balloons decorated a makeshift stage on Virginia City High School’s football field, where cap and gown-clad students collected their diplomas last May.
The sunny day came on the heels of a late snowstorm that threatened the outdoor ceremony, a pandemic-era plan to keep everyone safe. The moment brought hugs and tears for students, staff and parents alike in this small, rural school district east of Reno.
When the 2020-2021 school year started, Storey County educators counted about 10 out of 36 senior students who were either deeply in danger of not graduating or on the cusp. It became an all-hands-on-deck operation, with everyone from the superintendent to the custodian regularly checking in on students to ensure they crossed the graduation finish line.
In the end, they did. Storey County school officials say the district achieved a 100 percent graduation rate for the Class of 2021. The Nevada Department of Education lists Storey County’s graduation rate as 97 percent with 33 students, but Superintendent Todd Hess said the numerical difference boils down to how cohort numbers are tracked.
“My main emotion was relief and exhaustion,” said ShawnMarie Lumos, the school’s principal.
The happy ending in Storey County was somewhat of an outlier, though. Graduation rates dipped in many states, including Nevada, in 2021. The Silver State posted an 81.31 percent graduation rate last year, down from 82.57 percent in 2020 and 84.11 percent in 2019.
Although nine Nevada school districts posted graduation rate increases, the state’s two largest districts — in Reno and Las Vegas — awarded fewer diplomas to students than in prior years. The Washoe and Clark county school districts’ rates both fell by more than 2 percentage points from 2020.
Graduation rates are one of the key metrics monitored in the PreK-12 academic world, in large part because high school diplomas put students on a path toward higher education or trade schools, broadening career opportunities and lifetime earning potential.
The pandemic, however, appears to have blunted some of the progress made over the past decade or so. Many Nevada high school students did not attend in-person classes full time during the 2020-2021 school year, and while virtual learning worked for some students, others struggled.
Educators say they foresee continued challenges ahead as they reacclimate students to brick-and-mortar learning environments and navigate ongoing COVID-19 disruptions.
Read the entire article: Pandemic ‘survival mode’ complicates students’ pathways to graduation
The portion of the article is shared as part of our collaboration with The Nevada Independent. This story was originally published on February 6, 2022 and written by Jackie Valley and Jannelle Calderon.