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Latino students boast Highland High’s top graduation rate

Latinos aren’t singled out by special programs; rather, programs help all students and emphasize relationships and inclusiveness.

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He said sometimes teens from his Glendale neighborhood are considered "bad kids."

"That’s not the kind of rep I wanted," Flores said. "I just decided that’s not going to be me, and sports has helped me a lot."

At a glance

School’s (almost) out for summer

Schools across the state have been wrapping up classes last week and this week. Below are the last days of school for area districts:

Alpine, May 30

Canyons, June 4

Davis, May 30

Granite, June 5

Jordan, June 6

Murray, June 6

Park City, June 5

Salt Lake City, June 3

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Keeping track of kids » At Highland, all incoming freshmen are encouraged to choose two extracurricular activities.

It’s a way to keep them interested in attending school and keeping their grades up. To play soccer, for example, kids must maintain a 2.5 grade point average and aren’t allowed to practice if they don’t meet that. They also have study halls before practice.

"They were, like, on us 24/7 to have the grades," said Luis Orozco, a senior and captain of the soccer team.

Counselor Karrie Jarratt said that about three-fourths of the boys’ soccer team is Latino.

Kids who don’t play sports get the same type of encouragement.

Every Thursday, all day, a student services council made up of administrators and counselors meets with struggling students and their parents to discuss their individual issues and how to handle them. They also follow up later.

Highland also tries to offer all of its students opportunities to keep up and excel academically. The school has its own alternative program, allowing kids to complete course packets for free when they fall behind in credits and referring a few students to the district’s alternative high school, Horizonte.

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"It’s not the best educational practice," Schulte said of allowing students to complete packets for credit, "but it does save kids."

Assistant Principal Katie Eskelson-Ieremia said about 10 percent of the students complete at least one packet during their years at Highland, though most kids do only one.

The school also changed its attendance policy six or seven years ago, making a big difference for kids, Schulte said. Now, kids who accrue more than three absences in a term must make up that seat time. But they can make it up twice as fast through positive activities.

For example, participating in an hour of tutoring counts as two hours toward making up absences. If students attend school for 10 days in a row, they can get 10 hours off their absences.

It’s a policy that runs somewhat counter to a current trend in education of easing up on seat time requirements in favor of making sure kids are simply competent in the subjects they study.

But Schulte said it has been a success — chronic absenteeism has dropped from 15 percent to 6 percent.

"It is about competency," Schulte said, "but if you’re not in the class, you can’t learn the material."

‘It’s about relationships’ » Underlying the policies, procedures and programs are two principles that Highland’s leaders say make all the difference: inclusiveness and relationships.

Years ago, white kids gathered on the east side of the cafeteria and minority kids on the west side, as if to mirror the makeup of Salt Lake City itself.

Now, it’s more of a mishmash, Flores said. "Everybody talks to everybody," he said. "Everybody’s cool with everybody."

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