More Colorado high school students are graduating in four years. The latest data released by the Colorado Department of Education shows just over 75 percent of seniors across the state received a diploma in 2012.
For the fifth straight year, District 51 increased its number of four year graduates. District officials say the success is in part thanks to elementary and middle schools better preparing students as they head into high school.
The high school era will soon come to an end, and the next chapter of education will begin.
"I'm really excited for the independence and the freedom," Central High School senior DeAnna Wright said of heading to college.
For some high school seniors like Wright, college life is just months away.
"I’m going to the University of Portland to study social work," she said. “A lot of my peers who maybe wouldn't think about college are now thinking about college or at least community college or trade school."
It seems higher education is becoming an option for more seniors as the number of four year graduates increases.
"We set a goal, a realistic goal of raising graduation rate by 1.5 percent per year," School District 51 chief academic officer Bill Larsen said.
This past year, Grand Valley high schools exceeded that goal, graduating 2.2 percent more students than the 2010-11 school year and continuing a five year trend of more graduates walking after the traditional four years.
Central High assistant principal Lanc Sellden says teachers and staff hold students to a higher standard and work with them to find classes which will best assist them in their future goals.
"The higher that you raise the bar, the more students can push to get there as long as you've got ways to help them,” he said. "It naturally follows that they have a reason to be doing what they're doing, not just because they're supposed to get good grades."
"I think teachers really do a good job connecting the classes that we're in to real life," Wright added.
For those students who don't see college in their immediate futures, it's all about preparing for the next step, and that future starts with a high school diploma.
"We want to give every student the opportunity if they change their mind to at least be successful in college," Sellden said.
The school district says even though these graduation rates are increasing, it still holds students to a high standard to graduate. That includes taking a certain number of credits, TCAP performance and GPA.
School District 51's drop out rate also decreased in the last school year by 0.5 percent. That was also above the state average which dropped by 0.1 percent.