High school graduation is a rite of passage marking a transition from youth to adulthood. But often forgotten in the flurry of ceremonies and celebrations are the students who fall through the cracks.
In the Kamloops-Thompson School District, about 16 per cent of students do not earn a diploma within a six-year period, according to completion rates recently released by the district.
An 84-per-cent completion rate is admirable but what of those left behind? It's a dismal prospect.
"One of the most robust predictions about any teenager's future is that dropping out of high school will increase the probability of a life marred by lengthy bouts of unemployment and poverty," states the C.D. Howe Institute report School Dropouts: Who Are They and What Can Be Done?
The district is in the process of compiling data to determine where and why students go astray. But only one thing is certain — the answer is not cut and dried.
"Without data you just have an opinion," said Bill Hamblett, district principal of leadership and instruction. "In terms of a young person's life, there's school factors, there's social factors, there's family factors, there's financial factors. There's a variety of issues and interplay between those."
Broken down into demographics, the report shows girls are more likely to get through high school in six years at 86.6 per cent compared to 81.1 per cent for boys.
This is in line with Canadian statistics that show for every three girls dropping out, five boys do the same, according to the C.D. Howe Institute report.
And Kamloops-Thompson aboriginal students are less likely with a 75.5 per cent completion rate. This is a vast improvement over 58.3 per cent seen three years ago but educators still fret over the dropout rate.
"We're still losing more kids than we want to," said Renee Spence, administrator for the Kamloops-Thompson district's First Nations Education Council. "And the reasons are varied."
Among First Nations, it has a lot to do with a cultural disconnection, said Spence.
"We know that in the past the public education system has needed to do more to create a respectful place for Aboriginal learners where their culture and their history and their uniqueness as Aboriginal people is recognize and respected," she said.
The upswing in completion rate is thanks in large part to the district's efforts in that regard, she said.
The First Nations Education Council also runs numerous academic and counsellor support initiatives for Aboriginal students, many focusing on early learning.
"And we think there are more families that are wanting their (children) to have a good education," she said.
Today's learning institutions are much more attuned to the students who may be failing than in years past, with intervention programs that go beyond simple report cards to catch kids who are slipping.
"That's had an impact as well on this completion rate. We're finding those kids earlier," said Spence.
Despite all the programs in place, some students still dropout. But that doesn't mean they're gone forever.
National statistics show that between the ages of 20 and 24, the majority of dropouts return for their diploma. A mere six per cent of Canadians never do, according to Statistics Canada.
That's largely thanks to programs that guide dropouts to alternative schools — or "choice" schools, as a Twin Rivers Education Centre administrator likes to call them.
"For some students it's a lack of feeling of attachment to the school and engagement (that leads to dropping out)," said Pete Grinberg. "For some students the regular system just doesn't work."
The Twin Rivers programs are key for adult non-graduates to complete their education and gain self-esteem.
"It's just incredible the feeling that people have that they've achieved this," said Grinberg.
The school also runs a program at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, which leads some students to continue their education at the Street School once they are released from jail.
Rod Garry is one such student. The 44-year-old had a Grade 10 education when he enrolled in the adult-grad program while incarcerated. His reason for dropping out back in the 1980s was the lure of the paycheque.
"The call of work was greater than staying in school," he said.
One year, he took a summer job "out in the bush" and returned a different person.
"I tried to go back to high school and it just wasn't the same. I decided to pay bills and carry on life that way."
He became a sign builder and through his career, he wasn't turned away from jobs because he didn't graduate — that was never a factor. But during recent attempts to get further training, he learned he'd need his GED or diploma.
During his incarceration for driving offences, he enrolled in the Twin Rivers Education Centre program. And once released, he continued his studies.
To his surprise, he discovered that what he's learning can be useful after all.
"The stuff that I'm learning right now in trigonometry would help me so much in laying out sheet metal and surface area, the angles of breaking the sheet metal," he said. "I have the real-world applications now. I can see how I can use it to my advantage."
Garry is now three months away from earning his dogwood, which he hopes will allow him to enrol in an aboriginal training program to enter the mining industry.