NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Graduation day is a special moment Newport News Public Schools Graduation Coach Supervisor Vanessa Stephens works closely with students to achieve.

“It’s like a relay race. It starts there, then they move them on to elementary, middle school then they come to high school and that’s when the clock starts ticking,” said Stephens.

It’s a race to beat the clock and Stephens says they’ve cracked the code.

Newport News Public Schools’ graduation rate increased to 95.8% with the Class of 2022. That’s higher than the state average.

They’ve come a long way since 2008 when the graduation rate was 72.9%.

And when it came to high school dropouts, that rate dropped from 12% to less than 1% in that same time period.

It’s an extra impressive feat when you think about the hurdles the class of 2022 faced such as unexpected school closures and adapting to virtual and hybrid learning.

“I would like for every child, when they walk out of the school, to understand they receive a quality education and people in the school care about them,” Stephens explained.

So what’s the recipe to their success?

Stephens says NNPS began a layered approach by bringing in graduation coaches. Every school also has an attendance team that meets every week. The team addresses credit recovery, attendance, resources, and behaviors of at-risk students. It’s comprised of the Principal, Assistant Principal, School Counselor, Registrar, Attendance Clerk, Attendance Officer, Graduation Coaches, Social Worker, Student Support Specialist, Special Education Lead Teacher, Family Engagement Specialist, and Central Office Contact. In addition, and perhaps one of the most hands-on pieces to the puzzle, is at-home visits.

“We were still out there working on the streets during pandemic time. We called them porch visits; we were still doing those visits because we didn’t want to lose their kids. Life has gotten in the way for some of our students, but it’s still our job to make sure we get them back on track”,” Stephens said.

Stephens says each student comes with their own unique story and the resources they provide have to fit that.

“We have students that are living in hotels because of homelessness, their parents are working, and we go to those homes, go the motels and homes because sometimes we find out they need resources like a hot spot,” she said.

It’s a helping hand that goes a long way. Stephens said Graduation Coaches know how important it is for students to obtain a high school diploma because it can determine the quality of life students will have in the future.

NNPS’ on-time graduation rate is higher than the state average of 92.1% and the NNPS dropout rate is lower than the state average of 5.2%. The school division’s overall student completion rate, which includes students who have earned a diploma or a GED in four years, is 97.5%, according to data posted by the Virginia Department of Education.