DAYTON — Every senior at West Side High School graduated in 2016.
Forty-eight teenagers. Forty-eight diplomas.
Forty-eight handshakes with the principal and a deluge of people huddling up for pictures on the school lawn afterward.
But after all the yearbook signing and celebratory hugs, each West Side graduate confronted that inevitable question: What now?
Idaho Education News caught up with five of those 2016 West Side graduates more than a year later. The result? A microcosm of Idaho’s larger post-graduation landscape, which finds teens engaged in a variety of activities.
At least 14 of those 48 West Side graduates have signed up to serve two-year missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — a popular pursuit for many teens in Mormon-rich East Idaho.
Meanwhile, roughly half of those who attended West Side, located five miles north of the Utah border, have settled in at college — a ratio that reflects Idaho’s most recent statewide go-on trends of about 50 percent.
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Other 2016 West High graduates have either stayed local or pursued paths in business, agriculture, vocational careers or the military.
Here are some of their stories:
“I move sprinkler pipe and spray weeds for a local farmer.”
Abbie Povey, in between schools but currently enrolled at BYU-Idaho
Abbie has already received an associate’s degree in liberal arts from the College of Southern Idaho, where she earned a scholarship to play basketball. Like a growing number of Idaho students, she earned several college credits in high school by taking dual enrollment courses. This allowed her to earn her associate’s degree within a year at CSI.
But an associate’s degree isn’t enough, she said.
I want to keep going, so I am working to save up for college. Right now, I move sprinkler pipe and spray weeds for a local farmer. I also work at the local courthouse, scanning court files.
It’s a lot of work crammed into one summer, but I’m doing it because I know school’s important. I’m already enrolled at BYU-Idaho, where I want to study exercise science and hopefully become an occupational therapist someday.
Abbie credits her family with helping her develop a desire to someday earn a bachelor’s degree.
I have three older brothers who worked hard in school and taught me how to work hard. And my mom always emphasized getting good grades and going to college.
“I didn’t want all that debt.”
Zach Winter, pictured second from left, training to be a corpsman in the Navy.
Zach said he thought about college, but decided instead to join the Navy as a corpsmen, an enlisted medical specialist who can also serve in a Marine Corps unit. He’s currently stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Looking at it in high school I could’ve gone to college on scholarships — I know I could’ve. But in the end, 5-10 years of school was a long time, and I didn’t want all that debt. So I figured if I could go through the military, I could get my college paid for, get life skills, start my life and not have to worry about debt and working odd jobs while going to school.
I wanted to do something in a career field while I worked in it. I couldn’t find a job in medicine, other than being a CNA (certified nurse assistant), that would let me do that. But the military has helped me do that and given me hands-on training.
Zach said he’ll graduate from his corpsmen program within a month and could deploy with a group of Marines any time after that.
We have long days here — 12 hours every day. They feed you a lot of information and expect you to retain it, and a lot of us do. But because of that, I can basically do anything a nurse can do and it’s only been a year.
I can’t wait to get out and really start using what I know.
“I waited too long to go to school. That was a big mistake.”
Tyler O’Brien, enrolled in a vocational program to become an electrician
Tyler said recent family issues forced him to move in with his grandparents in neighboring Preston. He laments not enrolling in a vocational program until recently, saying he delayed opportunities for better-paying jobs and a chance to start a career. He currently works at a local dairy.
Right now I’m trying to go to Richland College in Logan, Utah. Hopefully I’ll be starting on Aug. 29. I’m trying to study and do an apprenticeship to become an electrician.
I do a little bit of everything on the dairy where I work — milk cows two days a week and a lot of other chores like moving pipe and hauling hay.
My only regret has been that I waited too long to go to school. That was a big mistake. I realized it mostly after my dad hurt his knee a few years ago. He used to work in St. George (Utah) doing electrical work. He only went to school for two years, so after his injury he had a hard time finding another job. Had he gone further and become a journeyman electrician, he could’ve found a job a lot more easily.
That’s why I advise all graduates to keep going to school.
O’Brien has been talking with a local electrician in Preston in the hopes of starting work as an apprentice this fall.
“You can’t live on nine dollars an hour.”
MacKenzi Moser, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene at Idaho State University
MacKenzi said a growing emphasis on dual enrollment courses helped her finish high school with more than 30 college credits. All those credits, and an emphasis on getting good grades, enabled her to secure a seat in Idaho State University’s competitive dental hygiene program.
I’m still in the prerequisite stage at college, so right now I’m taking a lot of biology classes. It’s been fun, but college was hard to get used to at first, but I’m doing well.
A lot of my desire to go to college stems back to high school. We had good teachers here at West Side. I remember some of them coming in at 7 a.m. to help kids and saying until 7 p.m. I’ve even had one offer to help me now that I’m in college and taking harder classes.
My family helped a lot, too — and the fact that life gets expensive. You can’t live on nine dollars an hour. College will definitely help me find something better.
“I don’t want to be stuck with some crappy job that I don’t want to take.”
Kade Howell, just finished up summer sales in Texas; plans on going to Utah State University in the spring.
Kade has found some well-paying jobs, including at a nearby Walmart distribution center for $16 an hour and, most recently, selling satellite TV and phone services in Texas.
He’s still set on earning a bachelor’s degree in order to both improve his chances of finding a job he likes and providing something to fall back on if something even better doesn’t work out.
Last summer I worked on the farm with my grandpa. Then I figured I should go to college, so I moved to Logan (Utah) to go to Utah State University. I didn’t want to pay out-of-state tuition, so I moved there to work before going to school.
I worked construction for about six moths there at first. Then some of my buddies found good jobs at the Walmart distribution center. They paid really well, like $16 an hour. I had some problems enrolling in school, so I just kept working.
Then a friend told me about summer sales and I decided to try it out. It sounded pretty good. I had a rough first month because my friend who recruited me went home the second day I got to Texas, and everyone there was pretty new, so there was a lot of learning.
I guess the main thing I’ve been trying to do is save up money for school. I definitely want to get my degree. I don’t want to be stuck with some crappy job, and I feel like the only way to do that is to go and get an education. Even if I find a good job, a degree could give me something to fall back on.
I’m not set about what to study yet, but I’ve looked into botany. I don’t know why, but I took a class in high school and it was, like, my favorite class. I also have a friend that’s going into aviation, and that sounds cool.
The main thing I want to do is not take out loans for school. I want to pay for it with my own money.