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Is kindergarten too early to push high school graduation?

Published January 14, 2014 1:49 pm

Pep rally aims to get kindergartners looking ahead to high school.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The sharpest minds in education have long debated the best age at which to start preparing kids for high school graduation.

Ninth grade? Sixth grade? Fourth grade?

Try kindergarten.

Hundreds of Granite District kindergartners spent Tuesday morning at Taylorsville High getting revved up about high school graduation — in 12 years.

Schools and districts across the state have strived in recent years to boost high school graduation rates. Utah's rate, now at 81 percent, has been climbing over at least the last five years. But a federal report released in 2012 ranked Utah's graduation rate as higher than just 14 other states, based on 2011 data.

In the Granite District, 70 percent of students graduated last school year. Taylorsville High's rate was 83 percent.

Taylorsville High Principal Garett Muse said the district has set a goal of a 90 percent graduation rate, and to do that, schools must start preparing kids early.

"By the time they get to ninth grade, it's very difficult [to catch up] if they have not prepared themselves all the way through," Muse said.

Hence the hundreds of kindergartners who all wore blue "Class of 2026" shirts to the mini-pep rally Tuesday. Over the course of about 45 minutes, the kindergartners, who attend schools that feed into Taylorsville High, watched teens demonstrate the fun activities that await them once they get to high schools.

Cheerleaders flipped across the auditorium stage, silver-sequined dancers strutted, the choir sang, JROTC members marched and athletes showed off their team uniforms.

"I know a lot of high school kids who thought high school was boring," said parent Jeanette Spencer who accompanied her daughter Misa Spencer of John C. Fremont Elementary to the rally, "but coming here with her today, it opens up that there are things everyone can enjoy, and high school isn't boring."

At the end of the assembly, each of the kids' elementary school principals walked onto the stage wearing caps and gowns. Kids got faux diplomas with spaces for their names followed by the words, "will be a future 2026 Taylorsville High School graduate."

Many of the teens who attended the assembly Tuesday said when they were 5 years old, they were hardly thinking about high school graduation.

"When I was in kindergarten, I worried about playtime," joked senior Zac Stepp, 18. But he said it's good to start kids thinking about graduation as early as kindergarten. "I feel like that's the age when everything impresses you."

Cheerleader and 11th-grader Ana Wolfgram also said it's never too early to start thinking about graduation. She said she already knows a couple of people who've dropped out of school.

"I don't think they have any motivation or just give up and think it's too hard," Wolfgram said.

Dancer and sophomore Makayla Roundtree said she also knows teens who dropped out and later returned upon realizing they needed their educations. She said kindergarten isn't too early to start talking about graduation.

"I think it's really great," Roundtree said, "because a lot of kids come into high school kind of intimidated and scared of it."

After watching the assembly Tuesday, Westbrook Elementary kindergartner Jaxon Perry wasn't scared of high school. He told his mom he now wants to play the clarinet when he gets to Taylorsville High.

Jaxon's mom, Emily Perry, said she's still hoping he'll play football, but, "I'll go with anything as long as he graduates."

Luckily, Jaxon has another 12 years to decide.

lschencker@sltrib.com