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Good grades are vital to graduating, but they aren't the only things that matter.

The Crook County High School class of 2019 is likely scattered at this point, with most of the students either in college, a trade school, the military or the workforce. Good for them that they have moved on to the next phase of their lives and in many cases probably left town — but too bad they are gone because they should have been here to find out that they were a special class.

The Oregon Department of Education just released data revealing that the CCHS graduation rate came in at an impressive 94.97%. Longtime local educator Stacy Smith, who is currently the district's director of curriculum and special programs, can't recall a higher graduation rate. Is it a record? Who knows, but is that really that important? The point is this class and all the people involved in getting them to the last June's big day did really well.

And looking at all the factors that school leaders highlighted to explain how they reached that number, it's easy to see that a broader approach to not just the academics but the whole student is making the difference.

Sure, the school is wisely keeping an eye on the academic performance of each student. If they start getting Ds or Fs, they assign mentors to check on them every other week and even make calls home. This a good idea. Good grades are vital to graduating. But they aren't the only things that matter.

Crook County High School principal Michelle Jonas mentions the emphasis on relationships and the Character Strong training program and points out the importance of knowing a student's name and face in the school. She stresses that they make sure every kid has an adult in the building that they can connect with when needed.

While keeping up on academics can be tough in its own right, it can get a lot tougher in a hurry when students are facing other challenges, from bullying to social struggles to mental health issues. Perhaps their home life is difficult. Whatever the case, forging relationships with all students, making them more than a number or a GPA to elevate, not only increases the odds that they graduate, it improves their chances of having a successful life.

What is encouraging to see is that this emphasis is not something that starts in high school or even in middle school. Character development is reinforced in elementary school. Mental health issues are met head-on at the same level with an emphasis on more counselors in the schools and the creation of calming corners and rooms exclusively dedicated to helping kids who are struggling emotionally or mentally.

In an era where mental health concerns continue to emerge and more people, celebrities and everyday citizens, are going public with depression, anxiety and concerns about bullying, schools need to focus on the whole student, not just the academics.

Crook County School District is doing that — and it isn't surprising to see those actions bear fruit in higher graduation rates. And while there is still room to improve — the graduation rates at the Pioneer Alternative School, Rimrock Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and the online FuelEd school are down this year — the emphasis on the whole student gives reason to hope for continued improvement.

Good job Crook County High School, and good job parents and educators. Keep up the good work and keep strengthening student relationships — and in the process, student achievement.


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