PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – 2023 high school seniors’ graduation day is just around the corner, and the Bay District Schools graduating Seniors has been steadily rising.

Bay District leaders said the current crop of seniors had not had a full, normal year of school since sixth grade.

This group of Bay County students weathered hurricane Michael in 2018 and then faced the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So every time we graduate one more student, that means that’s one more student that’s ready for life and ready to do something in the community,” said Jennifer Jennings, Specialist for Dropout Prevention. “That makes them happy, and that benefits our community.”

This year, about 85 percent of the Bay County will walk across the graduation stage in May.

“So, following the Department of Education’s lead, we’re looking at graduation rates from that 2018-2019 cohort of students to the current,” said Jennings. “With that result, we did have an increase of about 2.8 percentage rate increase, which is higher than the state’s 0.5 increase.”

Bay District officials said the programs and resources they offered over the past few years made a difference to struggling students.

“One of the most important things that we’ve implemented in Bay District Schools is we have graduation coaches on each and every campus, and their job is to meet with students,” said Jennings.

There has also been a higher graduation rate at Rutherford High School with students with disabilities and at Rosenwald High School with students who need a second chance.

“I mean, our graduation rate increasing by 50% in itself allows the kids opportunities that they wouldn’t have been they would have had before,” said Johnathon McQuagge, Rosenwald High School Principal. So that in itself, I think, allows students who probably would have fallen through the cracks.”

“The last two years, our ESE graduation rate has been 81 and a half percent,” said Todd Mitchell, Rutherford principal. “So, I think the reason for these stable figures is because ESE students have always received accommodations in the classroom.”

This year’s seniors still have some final hurdles to cross. The SAT’s, final exams, and prom await them over the next few months.