Wyoming K-12: Opportunity and Community - Wyoming Magazine

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Wyoming K-12: Opportunity and Community

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Author Kurt Vonnegut says, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country,” and I think there’s probably some truth to that. It’s fascinating to see the people I grew up with graduating and moving on to bigger and better things. Even though I think every generation has a little fear for the future, I feel confident that the students who have come out of Wyoming are some of the best prepared to face the uncertainty of the days to come. I say this having gone through the Wyoming K-12 school system and having graduated from the University of Wyoming in May.

Wyoming sets up its students for success. And, though there’s always room for improvement, the education system in the state has received many awards. This past year alone, three schools became United States Department of Education Blue Ribbon Schools, and Sheridan High School was listed as one of the nation’s Most Challenging Schools by The Washington Post. Jeff Mowry, an assistant principal at SHS and one of Wyoming’s native sons, highlighted the success of Sheridan County School District #2 and the larger education world of the state.

“Teaming a supportive community and leadership with high expectations and accountability is why SCSD#2 is successful. The expectation is high, and the people working for SCSD#2 are constantly trying to meet and exceed the expectations set by our leadership and community,” Mowry said.

Community is huge in the least populated state. The success of Wyoming’s schools hinges on supportive and innovative teachers—a fact obviously not lost on Mowry, or the students of the state. Joe Melia, a graduating senior from Cheyenne Central High School, said his teachers were very important to him over the years.

“Teachers in Wyoming have a sincerity that makes you want to do well. Most of my teachers are from Wyoming. Many went to Central. When they are from Wyoming, they understand Wyoming kids and give them opportunities.”

These opportunities pay off as Mowry notes about SCSD#2.

“I believe if you set high expectations, people will strive to meet those expectations. The students of SCSD#2 are not any different than everyone else. They strive to meet the expectations set before them,” Mowry said. “In my opinion, our students handle these high expectations well and meet or exceed them year in and year out.”

Teachers’ high expectations and their desire to know and love their students and their state proves contagious.

Estela Torres, a University of Wyoming Music Education and Spanish student from Gillette, typifies the pull that many Wyoming students feel to continue their education and later life in-state. Like many others, she turns to the idea of community to explain it.

“I want to stay in Wyoming once I graduate because I like the sense of community the state has to offer. When you’re in a small town, the school is definitely a focal point of the town and a music program can be integral to the program,” she explains. “Right now, Gillette would be the ideal place to get my first job. This is where my family lives and it would be really excellent to go back home after five years of school.”

Torres’ ambition embodies what Melia appreciated in his teachers, who have seen the world, but came back to teach in Wyoming.

“In Wyoming, teachers know the kids, and the students can get life experience and knowledge by getting to know them,” Melia said. “The relationship goes beyond the classroom. Students can experience the world through them.”

This experience helps prepare students for the real world and prepares them to explore the world outside Wyoming as well as in it. Melia struggled with his decision to leave the state for college, but he’s excited for the opportunity to try something new. He will run track while studying business management at Black Hills State University.

Torres’ need for community is a beautiful testament to how education works in Wyoming, just as Melia experienced it and as Mowry has cultivated it. Mowry, having worked in Wyoming for 12 years, reflected on what brought him back from Colorado to teach, eventually getting into administration.

“My main reason for moving back was to be closer to family. Once I moved back, I noticed some big differences between teaching in Colorado versus Wyoming. Wyoming’s educational system is in much better shape than Colorado’s, and I feel very fortunate to live and work in a state that graciously supports K-12 education,” Mowry said.

The old and new mirror each other, as they speak to the power of community and reinforce the students’ understanding of high school, Melia said he feels prepared to tackle college.

“All the opportunities Central offers—AP classes, its music department, sports—you don’t get that at Oakland High School,” he joked.

Melia reflected on these opportunities, thanking his choir teacher, David Hurst, and thinking of how his track coaches always pushed him forward.

Estela had similar thoughts on being pushed to succeed.

“Overall, diversity of options is really important because every kid is going to have a different niche. One day, there could come a time when one kid doesn’t feel like they have a reason to stay in school except for that one class, and it’s important that the one class exists.”

Wyoming often does a pretty good job of offering its students that one class, that one opportunity.

As the summer winds down and everyone gets closer to returning back to school, Melia offered his advice, and it’ll only help when Wyoming students head out to run the world.

“It honestly flies by. That sounds so cliché … but don’t try to think so much about the future. Live in the moment. Counting down to graduation for three years is not to your advantage. Just enjoy all the opportunities high school offers you.”

I don’t fear the day when my graduating class runs the country because we are coming out of Wyoming schools. I know we’ll be alright.

Article Written by Tyler Julian

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