TENNERTON - Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School students got an opportunity to take an early look at high school during the Destination Graduation forum at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
Throughout the event, students and their families were able to tour parts of the high school and get more acclimated with the eventual transition.
Usually transitional programs and activities, like open houses at the high school and Fred Eberle Technical Center, take place toward the end of the year. But school officials said they felt that earlier initiatives might make it easier for students to make the change.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
At Destination Graduation, Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Steve Foster told students about the job opportunities provided through trade skills with a demonstration of the size and thickness of manuals that are essential to understanding how to install a central air conditioning and heating unit.
"Traditionally, our ninth-grade students have had a very difficult time transitioning to the high school," B-UMS counselor Kerry Koury said at the event Tuesday evening. "We feel that maybe it's important to get both parents and students thinking about high school a little bit earlier.
"We hope to make them feel more welcome, help our eighth-grade students feel more integrated in the high school and, of course, the ultimate goal is to reduce our dropout rate as all of our students imagine themselves as high school graduates."
Steve Foster, executive director of the Upshur County Development Authority, gave students reasons why they shouldn't want to drop out of high school. He said the higher an education a student achieves, the better his or her chances are to make more money over the course of their lifetime.
With each degree level - from a two-year trade school to a college degree - graduates can expect to make $400,000 more in their lifetime than they would without the degree. He added that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs are expected to require at least a two-year degree.
Foster said college isn't for everyone, but there are still opportunities out there. As the baby boomer generation begins to think about retirement, more trade-skill job opportunities are opening up. Foster said that even local employers are finding those jobs increasingly difficult to fill. He offered to assist students who want to know where and how to search for jobs.
B-UHS Principal Bob Wilmoth also offered some early advice for middle-schoolers about their transition to high school.
"High school is not all about math and English," Wilmoth said. "It's about getting involved in other things: about getting involved in the choir; about getting involved in the jazz band; about getting involved in clubs. That's what makes high school fun, and that's what makes it very rewarding."
Graduation Coach Shanna Parlock was hired through a grant to help improve the graduation rate by hosting events and activities aimed at getting students more involved - and interested - in school. She also helps with the transitions students experience between the schools.
"One of the many ways (Destination Graduation) is working is to create relationships between staff, and students and to help students build connections to their school," Parlock said. "It has been a positive for students and staff to meet in non-academic settings."
Parlock said after-school events attended by staff members provide students with a chance to get to know their teachers outside of the classroom.
The middle school choir and high school jazz band performed musical numbers for the audience during Tuesday's forum, while student volunteers led tours of the high school. The Pro Start team prepared and served refreshments for the guests. Art classrooms in both the middle and high schools provided student artwork. The middle school Tech Ed group also helped with the evening program.
"We hope this will help with the transition to Buckhannon-Upshur High School by giving you information much earlier in the year," Superintendent Roy Wager said to the students. "A lot of times you don't have these open houses until August, and kids are getting a little bit about nervous about starting their freshman year."