SISTERSVILLE -- The Class of 2016 deserves a little bit of praise for making the grade as being among the highest graduation rates in the state.
The Wildcats achieved a perfect 100 percent graduation while the Silver Knights topped 97 percent during the 2015-16 school year, according to data from the state Department of Education.
The average graduation rate for West Virginia high schools in the 2015-2016 school year was 89.81 percent. That placed West Virginia among the top 20 states for graduation rates.
"Our state becomes stronger with each student that graduates high school," State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano said. "The high schools here today deserve the praise they are receiving for achieving a 90 percent or higher graduation rate. Our schools see the potential that a high school graduate holds for our state and they, along with the Department of Education and Board of Education, have made it a top priority to ensure our students show up, work hard, and earn a diploma."
Silver Knights' Brittany Weekley and Brannon Jones and Wildcats' Sam Price have become Mountaineers. This trio is applying the knowledge and values they learned in high school in pursuit of academic excellence.
TCHS class of 2016 was no ordinary class. The average class ACT was a 21.2 and they have earned more than $2.3 million in scholarships through academic excellence, athletic ability, or leadership experience. This total does not include need based financial aid that was offered.
Also, 23 students were currently eligible for the PROMISE scholarship that pays $4750/year for up to 4 years of higher education. And, three students enlisted with the US Marines and one with the Navy.
"I attribute the success to our staff," TCHS Principal Kent Yoho said. "They are hardworking caring people who want their students to succeed. The parents deserve credit as well. They are the ones who make sure their kids are in school everyday and they are the ones who raised them to follow rules and act like responsible young adults."
Back in the day, Weekley was creating award winning artwork in Joe Semple's art class. When the Silver Knights' graduated in May, the turning of the tassels was led by Senior Class President Damara Winfrey and the benediction by Weekley as senior class vice president.
"I do think that I was able to receive a fantastic education at Tyler Consolidated," Weekley said while studying for an exam at WVU. "The teachers cared a lot about if we were catching on to the concepts being taught and reached out to students who were struggling."
Today, Weekley is pursuing a degree in art education with an emphasis on sculpture. Always open minded and with a keen intellect, she is also studying philosophy. She is taking a class that will allow me to be an Honors mentor and teach a section of the Honors Orientation course next fall.
"I am enjoying my classes," she said. "They are incredibly challenging, but equally as fun."
When Weekley was in high school, there was always a book in her hand. During her summer as a lifeguard at Sistersville Pool, she would chat about why is art is important while watching kids and keeping them safe as they splashed around in the cool water.
Weekley feels her time as a Silver Knight prepared her academically for the challenges ahead in college.
"I think I was very prepared to be here at WVU," she said. "The bar is set very high at TCHS. You are expected and encouraged to work as hard as you can. The school offers quite a few AP and college courses that can really help make the transition to higher education a lot smoother. I was able to get a feel for the amount of work that would be expected of me in a college course before I ever left TCHS."
Rural schools sometimes have it tougher than urban schools, yet TCHS was able to triumph over its peers from larger cities.
"I feel as though it was a benefit for TCHS to be small and rural," she said. "Teachers are able to forge better relationships with each of the students they teach, which allows them to really sense when their students are struggling and more easily find the root of the problem. In larger cities, you are unable to replicate the close knit community that exists at TCHS. In the smaller setting of Tyler Consolidated, more individual students are given their time to shine and that leaves a tremendous impact on the success of the school as a whole."
TCHS' class sizes are small, so teachers know their students on a first name basis and are able to give them more time and care. Any observer could see that first hand in Leon Ammons' agricultural classes or Maggie Fisher's English lectures or Joseph Semple's art classes. Students are not mere social security numbers as they are in giant lecture halls.
A deep thinker on so many different levels, Weekley offered up a keen observation about how receiving a more rural education has definitely given her both an advantage and a vastly different perspective in a college setting.
"In a more rural setting, you are trained to ask for help when you need it, which is something I have noticed a lot of other students in higher education refrain from doing," she said. "I think in a more urban setting teachers have to focus more on ensuring that they are getting the material taught to everyone at an efficient pace and quite often aren't given the opportunity to stop and make sure absolutely everyone is catching on.
"They may not see one confused look in a crowd of students. In that case, students from these settings just kind of stumble through without really being given the opportunity to work through whatever is giving them trouble. In college, these ideals stick with you. Since in high school I was encouraged to ask a lot of questions, I ask a lot of questions. I am more comfortable speaking up in lectures because discussion happened so effortlessly at Tyler Consolidated. I definitely feel that graduating from here gave me an advantage."
Last May, Jones was dressed in a black graduation robe that was decorated with all sorts of regalia denoting his status as one of the valedictorians for the Class of 2016.
"Carrying excellence, drive, character, intelligence, and talent with us wherever we go, the Tyler Consolidated Class of 2016 is sure to make some noise," Jones said during his valedictory speech, "So go on, tear down some walls, do things that are outside of the norm, and dare to do what other will not. It is our time to make a difference in the world, to invent, discover, and explore, and I don't know of anybody more capable than us. So never settle for anything less than what you know you can achieve, because achieve you will."
A long way from home in a galaxy far, far away, Jones is studying industrial mathematics and statistics.
"Morgantown, being surrounded by hills, still kind of feels like home," he said. "So even though it's a larger place, the atmosphere feels familiar."
Jones said his time as a Silver Knight prepared him for college.
"I definitely think my education at TCHS was exceptional," he said. "Every teacher there really cares if their students are learning the material given. I do think this is made easier for them by the fact that we have a smaller community. The smaller classroom sizes allows the teacher to reach every student.
"On the other hand, the school is still large enough to allow many of the opportunities that a larger school does. Now that I'm in college I definitely think that I was well prepared in high school. The concepts that I learned there made it easier to build upon them once I went to college."
Tyler County is in his blood.
"I definitely miss the tight knit community back in Tyler County and it will always feel like home," he said.
Price is Right
When 33 graduates were presented their diplomas in May, the Wildcats were able to boast a 100 percent graduation rate.
"I'm proud of the work of the students, as well as the work the parents and guardians put in to their child's education, as well as my staff and our counselor, Chad West," Principal Jay Salva said. "We all work hard to ensure that each student not only graduates, but graduates college and career-ready."
The Class of 2016 Welcome Speech was given by Samuel Price, whose family has deep roots with the school and community much like many of his fellow classmates.
"I want to give a special thank-you to all the alumni and the Paden City community for all that you do to make our school a better place," said Price, senior class president and valedictorian. "You have gone above and beyond to secure that the first 65 years is only the beginning. You have always 'waved high the green and white forever.' On behalf of the class of 2016, thank you. You have given us a place to learn, grow and create our own 'chain of memories.'"
From tiny Paden City to the Mountaineers Price is still a home town boy at heart who praises the education he received.
"I definitely feel that I received an excellent education while attending Paden City High School," said Price, who is studying computer engineering.
Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.
"I do admit that much bigger schools have more opportunities to enhance and further the education of their students, but they have a more difficult time personalizing their education," he said. "Paden City High School was able to make our learning experience more personal which also allowed for the students to learn at their own pace. There is also a "no man left behind" mentality at my alma mater; every student is given the amount of help they need to reach graduation."
Like Weekley and Jones, Price was able to turn his background into an advantage.
"I feel that I was decently prepared for college. Having a rural education has definitely given me an interesting perspective to live with compared to other students attending WVU," he said. "I cannot say whether it gave me an advantage or not, but I definitely would choose rural over an urban education based on the great experience I had at Paden City High School."