Graduate Yelm!, the local community-collaborative program organized by Yelm Community Schools to increase graduation rates and stimulatepost-high school readiness, is gaining quite a lot of traction amongst its partners. 

Recently, it was announced the program signed on over 70 community partners that are distilling dialogue with students. These partners include local organizations and businesses. And the number is growing quite rapidly. 

“It’s not that we’re struggling to get from 70 to 100, it’s that we’re struggling to schedule and meet with everyone,” said Superintendent Brian Wharton. “The response from our community has been amazing.”

The district’s current goal is to sign on 100 partners by graduation, and Wharton said the district had identified over 150 partners from the start. The great thing about this partnership, he says, is that it’s simple and easy for businesses to implement. 

“We found partners where we weren’t even looking,” Wharton said.  “What’s really great is we’re not asking for money. All we’re asking for is energy and conversation.” 

Recent partners that have signed on include Yelm Farmers Market, Bounty for Families, Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County, The United Methodist Church and Fairway. Nisqually Valley News is also currently considering involvement with the program. 

The goal with Graduate Yelm!, and with many of the programs that fall under the umbrella of the initiative, is to encourage both the district and community members to reconsider the way they talk about post-high school plans. Another goal is to also prioritize graduation and graduation readiness with students at Yelm High School. 

Within most public elementary schools and high schools, there’s an expectation that students will graduate, then attend a four-year university. Wharton said the goal is to reconsider the definition of “college” and get kids to make decisions on what path after high school would suit their needs, both financially and career-wise, best. 

“At the kindergarten level, it’s really important to start talking about the vocabulary of graduation,” Wharton said. “It also gets their parents talking differently, which is neat.”

From a child’s first step into a Yelm school’s classroom, they’re learning about what college is and other activities to get students thinking about what they want they’re good at. 

“It’s vocabulary, it’s connection. When they hit middle school, we start asking ‘what are you good at, what are you interested in and what jobs are associated with those areas?’” Wharton said. 

Then, by the time they’re enrolled in high school, students are asked more detailed questions about graduation readiness. “Have you completed the FAFSA? What is your High School and Beyond Plan? What college campus or work program have you or plan to visit?” 

Businesses and organizations have been very receptive to the program, Wharton said. A few local businesses have even asked some Yelm High School students about their High School and Beyond Plan during job interviews. 

“We’ve got multiple places where, when they buy their swag for their company, they started putting the Graduate Yelm! logo on it,” he said. 

Thurston County Youth Football players and cheerleaders are currently sporting the logo on their uniforms, according to the district’s website. Pizzeria La Gitana has also been advertising the cause. 

“Their advertising themselves and Graduate Yelm! at the same time,” Wharton said.  

Bliss Experience Salon and Nails has been a member of the program for about a year now, owner Stephanie Kangiser said. Overall, she said the program reflects a lot of the important community values that they as a business are looking to apart of. 

The salon also offers a regular apprenticeship for high school students to learn about the industry, she said. 

“Joining the program for us is a no-brainer. We want to encourage students to graduate and be forward thinking about plans afterwards,” Kangiser said. 

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