American Graduate

Wyoming Public Media

Tonight at 8:00 pm, Wyoming PBS will broadcast ‘Steps To Success For Wyoming’s Native American Students,’ a co-production with Wyoming Public Media.

For information on where to find Wyoming PBS in your area, click here. You can also be part of the discussion online. Share your questions and comments throughout the broadcast on Twitter, using the hashtag #WindRiverEducation.

University of Wyoming

This summer, the University of Wyoming’s College of Education welcomed a new dean. Dr. Ray Reutzel was hired amid a major effort by the University’s Board of Trustees to boost the College to national prominence in teacher training. Reutzel himself attended the College decades ago. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank sat down with Reutzel—and began by asking him what impact his experience as a student at UW's College of Ed has on his approach as its dean.



Aaron Schrank

Fiorella Lazarte is an early literacy coordinator with Jackson’s Teton Literacy Center. Today, she’s driving across town to the home of one her 5-year-old students. 

“We’re going to Camilo’s home,” says Lazarte. “They live in the Virginian Apartments. And the Virginian Apartments itself is an area where the working class lives.”

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie senior Keenen Large watches from the bleachers as his grade school counterparts parade through the school gym in traditional dress. This is what the school calls ‘Indian Days.’ Keenen remembers what it used to be.

“When I was a kid it was like five days,” says Large. “Man, every day was fun. They actually brought a buffalo here and they really performed a gutting ceremony—and then we ate it afterwards. It’s good.”

Wyoming Public Media

The four-year graduation rate for students on the Wind River Indian Reservation hovers around 50 percent, compared to 80 percent in the rest of Wyoming. In this hour-long forum, Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter Aaron Schrank explores the many factors—from historical trauma to family poverty—that contribute to below average education outcomes for Native American students.

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School is a small, struggling school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The students there have been pushing towards one major goal: graduation. And, today, as part of our series on the school, we’ll hear some of those students cross the finish line. 

As family and friends file into the Fort Washakie gymnasium, the class of 2015 is outside posing for a final group photo. English teacher Mike Read offers a quick pep talk as he snaps his camera shutter.

Aaron Schrank

Life after high school looks a bit different for every Wyoming graduate. Some are set on college or a career. Others are more worried about making money this summer. In an effort to prepare students who are less interested in academic options, one high school started a program that trains some seniors to be commercial truckers.

For the final two weeks of his Douglas High School career, Garret Blackburn has been spending most of his time hanging out in the parking lot.  

“This is definitely a lot more interesting than sitting around the classroom,” Blackburn says.

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School is on track to graduate more students than ever this year. It still won’t be a big number, but getting a high school degree is a big deal for students at this small school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Some are making college plans. Others are just crossing their fingers hoping to get through the rest of the school year. 

Blaze Condon was a junior last semester, but she’s earned enough credits to graduate from Fort Washakie in May. She says it felt great to break that news to her family.

Aaron Schrank

In most schools, campaigns to keep students from smoking use simple slogans like “Be Smart, Don’t Start,” but those targeting Native American kids are a bit different. On Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, you’re likely to hear more nuanced catchphrases like “Keep It Sacred,” and “Traditional Use, Not Commercial Abuse.”

That’s because tobacco is an indispensable part of many Native American traditions. But with sky-high smoking rates on reservations, Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports that the need to limit nontraditional tobacco use is greater than ever. 

Aaron Schrank

There’s a nationwide push to get more students involved in STEM education. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But, despite enthusiasm—and Wyoming’s above average school funding— few K-12 schools in the state have been able to build the STEM programs they’d like. Many of those that have—have done so not with funding and support from the state—but from the energy industry. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports.

Jeremy Wilburn, Flickr Creative Commons

Nearly a year after Wyoming lawmakers blocked the State Board of Education from considering a set of science standards that include climate change, a bill to put the standards back on the table is up for debate. When the dust settles, it could mean a change in classroom conversations about climate.

At Natrona County High School in Casper, 10th grade biology students are dropping bits of beef liver into test tubes filled with hydrogen peroxide. Today’s lesson is on enzymes, but science teacher Bryan Aivazian doesn’t spend much time lecturing.

Zach Montes

Last November, President Obama announced a major executive action on immigration—a plan that would offer temporary legal status and deportation relief to millions of immigrants who live in the country without documents. That’s big news for residents of Jackson. In the past few decades, the town’s Latino immigrant population has skyrocketed from basically zero—to about 30 percent of the community. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, these changes to immigration law could bring new opportunities to Jackson’s working class immigrants—and the employers who hire them.

Mike Read

This school year, we're following the academic progress of students at Fort Washakie High School—a struggling school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Academic achievement—like most things at the high school—is on the rise. Thanks to its recent switch from charter to public, there’s a brand new school building in the works here. And students here have just taken a step that seems small, but is key to earning Fort Washakie its stripes as a traditional high school on the reservation. They've put together a basketball team.

DC Central Kitchen

Two years ago, the federal government put strict new guidelines in place for school lunches to get kids eating healthier. Since then, about one million students have left the program nationwide. Many students are simply brown-bagging it— dissatisfied with what their cafeteria serves under the new standards. Others attend a small but growing number of schools who are ditching the federal program—and its dollars—altogether. There are 7 such schools in Wyoming. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank paid one of them a visit to see how it’s working out.

Aaron Schrank

The number of students experiencing homelessness in Wyoming has gone way up in recent years, but there are few resources for homeless Wyomingites—and almost none specific to youth. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, public schools are on the front lines of identifying and advocating for these vulnerable young people.

Aaron Schrank

After the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, schools nationwide increased focus on security. Hundreds of school safety bills were proposed in state houses across the country. Spending on security systems skyrocketed. Wyoming was no exception. Just a few months after Newtown, Governor Matt Mead launched a task force to look at the safety and security of Wyoming’s schools and recommend improvements. More than a year later, Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports on where that effort stands.

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School on the Wind River Indian Reservation was a charter high school until a few years ago. Now it’s a public school. Most of its classes used to be online. Now, it’s building a brick-and-mortar building for 150 students.

For now, around 50 kids and a dozen teachers make do in makeshift classrooms. The school’s last reported graduation rate was just 7 percent, but as it morphs into a more traditional high school, the current crop of students has high hopes for the future.

Jimmy Emerson, Flickr Commons

This week, 9 school district superintendents met with Governor Mead to contend that the state has underfunded its K-12 schools. While Wyoming ranks near the top of the pack when it comes to per-student funding, this coalition of districts says that funding has not been properly adjusted for inflation each year—and the shortages have meant cutting crucial programs in some districts. But some lawmakers say it’s more complicated than that.

Aaron Schrank

Wyoming spends a lot of money educating its children. The state comes in sixth place in per-student spending for K-12. But when you look at outcomes—like graduation rates—we’re stuck in the middle of the pack. Some educators say the key to boosting student performance is to put more focus on children before they start kindergarten.

Aaron Schrank

Students at Westwood High School—an alternative school in Gillette—are starting out the new school year in a brand new building. That means more space and state-of-the-art technology—but perhaps most important—a new location. That’s because Westwood, where most students don’t see themselves as college-bound, put up its new school building smack dab on a college campus.

Diana Denison

Wyoming Public Media's Education Reporter, Aaron Schrank, moderated a discussion on Common Core issues in Wyoming on September 10, 2014. Panelists included University of Wyoming Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Mark Stock, Wyoming Education Association President Kathy Vetter, Wyoming Liberty Group's Amy Edmonds and Cheyenne South High School Math Teacher Jayne Wingate.

You can watch the forum on Wyoming PBS on September 29 at 8:00pm, September 30 at 1:00pm and on October 5 at 11:00am.

Wyoming Education Forum

Sep 8, 2014
Diana Denison

Listen Online! AIRS ON WPR: September 12 at 3:00pm, Repeats September 14 at 12pm. Listen online at

AIRS ON Wyoming PBS: September 29 at 8:00pm, Repeats Tuesday 30 at 1:00pm and October 5 at 11:00am.

Getting to the Core of the Common Core:

Stuart and Jen Robertson via Flickr Creative Commons

Wyoming’s prison system boasts the second best recidivism rate in the country. Twenty-five percent of offenders in the state will return to prison for a parole violation or new crime—compared to 40 percent nationally. The Wyoming Department of Corrections credits its education programs—including a mandatory G.E.D course for all inmates without a high school degree— with keeping inmates from landing back behind bars.

Zach Fuhrer dropped out of high school at age 17 and had no intention of ever setting foot in another classroom.

Aaron Schrank

As Wyoming teachers gear up for another school year, there’s more emphasis than ever on improving so-called STEM education in the state. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, the number of jobs in these fields is rapidly rising in Wyoming, and the state’s education leaders are working together to prepare.

Aaron Schrank

University of Wyoming trustees and the state’s top lawmakers are sitting around a table in Casper. On today’s agenda: the relationship between the Legislature and UW. Get-togethers like this mid-July meeting don’t happen often.

"This is the first time, and I’ve been around politics quite a while," says Senator Eli Bebout, who has spent more than 20 years in the Legislature. "Where we got with the Board of Trustees, the President and members of the leadership and other key legislators to talk about these things. It’s the way it should be."

Aaron Schrank

It’s before 8 o’ clock in the morning, and there’s a surprising amount of noise coming from a basement classroom in UW’s library.

Inside is a group of about 25 sitting in a circle, playing instruments or humming along. For most of the year, these people are music educators teaching in schools all over Wyoming. But in the summer, they’re students themselves—in a UW summer master’s program. Today, they’re learning a melody by ear.

Aaron Schrank

It’s a tense public meeting in Rawlins. School District officials here recently learned that the latest contractor bid to build a new Rawlins High School is $7 million dollars over budget. Carbon County School District 1 Superintendent Fletcher Turcato says Rawlins isn’t interested in making cuts.

“Four months ago, we were within budget—and because of a bidding climate, now they want us to continue to take money out of this project,” Turcato said. “That’s not going to happen. The Board said it’s not going to happen. We’re not going to do that to the people of Rawlins.”

Phil Roeder via Flickr Creative Commons

Nationwide, including Wyoming, states are working to build huge databases that can track students from preschool all the way into the workforce. In the brave new world of big data, the thought is—more information means smarter education policy decisions and improved learning. But some parents worry that these systems will go too far.

At Laramie County Community College, a classroom full of people is talking about control groups and independent variables. It’s not as exciting as it sounds, but it is important.

Aaron Schrank

Robert Sheetz spent five years in the U.S. Navy, working on a flight deck, fixing fighter jets. When he got out, the Colorado native came to Wyoming—to put his GI Bill benefit toward an anthropology degree.     

“I was a 23-year-old freshman coming into the University of Wyoming, coming from an area where I had a huge structure system around me from being in the military,” Sheetz said.  “So I had to kind of learn to build that system for myself and figure out how to be a college student after not being in school for five years.”

Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy

Nearly 1 in 5 Wyoming high school students drop out every year. Today, we take a look at a program that aims to find dropouts and get them back on track before it’s too late. And as Aaron Schrank reports, it’s run not by the state’s Education Department, but it’s Military Department.

SCHRANK: When Francisco Jovel dropped out of Pinedale High School last year, he was three years behind on class credits. He’d been in and out of the Wyoming Boys’ School in Worland for breaking and entering and theft. He was running out of options.