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Great Falls seniors conduct 'graduation walks' for younger students

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Posted at 4:01 PM, May 28, 2024

Graduating seniors across three Great Falls schools had a blast from the past Tuesday morning as they walked through the halls of their old elementary schools, being an inspiration to the future graduates who will follow in their footsteps.

Graduating seniors from Great Falls High School, C.M. Russell High School, and Paris Gibson Education Center spent the day traveling to fifteen elementary schools in Great Falls, visiting with their old elementary teachers and spending time with the school children.

The seniors began by walking through the halls of the school, met with applause and high fives from elementary students lining the halls, many wearing ‘future grad’ t-shirts. Each school had a different activity planned, including playing on the playground and talking with students about future career goals.

The goal of the outing was to both celebrate the senior’s accomplishments and to inspire future generations of graduates.

Lily Jones, a senior at C.M. Russell High School says, “It’s a little bit emotional coming back because it feels like I was just there and 2024 was just like a big number far away. And now it is 2024 and I'm graduating on Saturday. I'm going to go to Montana Tech for nursing, and then after I get my bachelor's, I'm going to continue on for pediatric occupational therapy.”

The event was part of the Graduate to Elevate Initiative. United Way and Great Falls Public Schools have partnered together for the past 12 years on their Graduate to Elevate Initiative with the goal of increasing graduation rates and reducing dropout rates.

Marketing Director for United Way of Cascade County Kim Skornogoski explains, “Part of the idea is to kind of create that cool moment where these big kids are walking through the halls with their caps and gowns and really to plant that seed that you want to have a plan to graduate, that that's your future.”

Graduate to Elevate targets children at the elementary level making sure they develop proper learning skills to ensure no student is left behind. Since the initiative began, dropout rates have decreased by 50% in Great Falls public schools. The initiative includes making sure students can read at the proper grade level and providing them tools and extra help to reach certain learning goals. If benchmarks like reading levels are not met, it could increase the student’s risk of dropping out later.

Great Falls High School Senior Reagan Turner says the advice she would give to her elementary school self would be “to just soak up every single moment, because time does really go by fast. So just enjoy it and be a kid for as long as you can be a kid. After graduation, I'll be attending U of M and I plan to go to law school and become a lawyer.”

For more information on the Graduate to Elevate Initiative, click here.