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Best Economic Stimulus: High School Diplomas

By wisdom is a house built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasurers. – Proverbs 24:3-4

In Wyoming, the high school graduation rate for whites is 81.6%.  For Native Americans in Wyoming it is 45.3%.  Nationally, it is 81% for the general population and 68% for Native Americans.  Research supports that the best economic stimulus is graduation from high school.  Here is an institutional racism issue, and one we can do something about.

I attended the 7th Annual Native American Education Conference this past week in Riverton.  The 2-day annual conference is co-sponsored by the state, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, demonstrating well that collaboration works.  This year was free to residents of Fremont County with an emphasis on youth participation.  “Hope” was an underlying theme or “realistic optimism,” as one presenter put it.

Here is some of what I learned:

#1 Lesson Learned: Talking with young children builds vocabulary which results in success in life.  Dr. Bob Bayuk  who led a workshop on understanding poverty and the relationship to education gave an example that reminds me of when I was carrying my 2-year old grandniece Evie at her grandparents’ (my brother’s) 50th wedding anniversary telling her what was happening and describing the wedding dress on display that her grandmother had made.  Relatives made fun of me saying, “She can’t understand what you are talking about.”  Even if she didn’t, she hung onto every word I said.  My goal had been to entertain her so she would quit whining.  But what I was doing was building vocabulary. Statistics have linked poverty with the lack of vocabulary that leads to difficulty in school.  Simply talking with young children helps break the cycle of poverty.  There is a role for our churches!

I went to two workshops led by Dr. Sandy Addis from Georgia about school dropout prevention, because I am concerned about truancy on the Wind River Reservation that is likely linked to the historic trauma caused by the church-run boarding schools a few generations ago to “kill the Indian to save the man.”  Only recently is that trauma being addressed through programs like “Mending Broken Hearts” being conducted on the Wind River Reservation led by Millie Friday and other Native Americans.

#2 Lesson Learned: The economy and education are linked.  Families making $16,000 or more would reduce the high school dropout rate.  And it works the other way, too.  Students graduating from high school increases incomes tremendously and the community economy significantly benefits by millions of dollars.  Earnings and spending increase, home sales and auto sales go up and social program costs go down.  Go to for data by state and by ethnicity.

#3 Lesson Learned: It takes leadership to solve problems.   To solve the school dropout problem reminds me of the approach that is required to address economic development that we have been learning from Community Builders, Inc. as well as from BridgeWorks, both Wyoming-based businesses that the Wind River Native Advocacy Center has utilized.   It makes sense since education and the economy are related.  School dropout prevention requires a systemic approach, community involvement (another role for the churches!)  and a safe and friendly learning environment.  The negative factors are holding children back in school (retention), poor grades and lack of attendance.  The most effective approaches are career/job development, family engagement and mentoring.   A community in Georgia in 10 years went from 58% graduation rate to 95%.  Changing the school mascot from Bull Dog to Grad Dog with the motto of “Finish what you start. You can do it.” was part of the solution.

Our to-do list:

  1. Address the data

  2. Highlight the cost of not acting

  3. Develop understanding

  4. Highlight the causes

  5. Focus on solutions

What is your church doing to lead and to collaborate in your community on education and poverty, an important justice issue where you can make a difference?

Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.


Chesie Lee

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