SPOKANE, Wash. - The White House says more students are graduating from high school than ever before, and that's true in Spokane as well.
A new report shows America's high school graduation rate now tops a record-high 83 percent. In Spokane, for the 2015-2016 school year, 84.5 percent of high schoolers graduated in four years. That's up more than 10 percent from the 2010-2011 school year when 72 percent of high school students graduated in four years.
Administrators at Ferris High School say our district's rising graduation rates are thanks to a commitment to focus on individual students. Assistant Principal Samantha Anderson says the district has made it a priority to reach each individual student.
One program that does this at Ferris is the Project Based Learning program. Students in PBL aren't separated by grade or test scores. PBL is one of several programs that allows students to take more control of their education. In the classroom, students are given complex questions and answer based on their individual skill set.
"This program has really like been showing me what I'm good at, like my strengths and stuff, and bringing out things in me that, you know, I should look into more," said Tyray Hunt, a senior in the PBL program.
When Madison Ferguson started high school at Ferris, she says the only thing she was looking forward to was dropping out.
"Last year I felt really alone, like I was just walking through my halls trying to get to my next class, or just trying to go somewhere and get out the doors without being caught," she said.
And that's a feeling Anderson knows well. Anderson dropped out of Ferris High School her Junior year. She now uses her experience to get students excited about education.
"What would have engaged me? It wasn't sitting in a room doing a packet all day, which has been past practice in certain history," she said. "It was engaging my mind in dreaming something that is larger than where I'm currently at."
She also uses her experiences to create a community of acceptance in the PBL program.
"They're there when we need to fall back. They're there to guide us and push us to the next level that we didn't ever think that we could be on," Ferguson said.
Now, Madison says she's ready to see what her future holds, feeling more empowered than ever.
"I'm definitely a lot happier this year than I was last year, with knowing where I'm going in life, than sitting down and thinking to myself 'who am I going to be?' What am I going to do? Am I going to be anybody?' But, I know that I'm going to be somebody," Ferguson said.
School administrators say their focus is to create a classroom where students feel safe to be themselves and express their feelings.
While Ferris has a graduation rate around 90%, the PBL program was created to reach the 10% of students who still don't make it to graduation.
But, for students who don't want to show up to school, Ferris says it doesn't take a traditional approach. They use a team of community leaders, including counselors and psychologists to figure out why the student isn't attending and what will get them engaged in the classroom. They then try to match that student to a program that will work for them and go from there.