Mason County, WA: Building a Roadmap to Better Health by Investing in Education

March 17, 2013

In Mason County, WA—which ranked 35 out of 39 counties in the state in the 2012 County Health Rankings—a diverse group of partners has come together to boost the community’s educational attainment. Although the county boasts an overall high school graduation rate of 81 percent, many young people in this traditional logging community don’t go on to college. This is especially true of the county’s rural residents. 

“Local employers offering living wage jobs are challenged to find trained and prepared workers, while too many adults in our workforce are consistently unemployed or underemployed,” said Kimberly Klint. “If we get this right, within the next decade we’ll have graduates ready to partake in the local economy and who enjoy better health outcomes.” 

Klint is the executive director of Mason Matters, an initiative that works to improve educational attainment in Mason County by removing non-academic barriers to learning such as unstable housing, food insecurity, and poor healthcare. She credits the County Health Rankings with helping her group realize it could do more, beyond improving graduation rates, to foster an ambition for higher education in the county’s youngest students.

Currently only 44 percent of students pursue higher education and most aren’t exposed to college readiness programs until after 8th grade. But Mason Matters, which partners with all seven public school districts in the county, introduces its Career and College Readiness curriculum to students as early as 4th grade to get them excited about pursuing a career early on. Local businesses support the effort by providing ‘world of work’ lessons in the classroom that demonstrate how students’ coursework translates to success in the workplace. The local Chambers of Commerce have become advocates as well, with the goal of developing an educated work force for the future. 

Recently the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which oversees K-12 education in the state, learned about Mason Matters efforts and partnered with the largest school district, Shelton School District, to develop a Drop Out Early Warning System. The pilot program uses data schools are already collecting, such as absentee and attendance records, to identify students at risk of veering off the path of academic achievement and then employs family coordinators to help them get back on track to graduation. 

This year, a bill introduced by state Representative Kathy Haigh would fund the program’s expansion in Mason County and provide additional funding for other high-needs communities to duplicate the model. To date, the resolution (known as HB 1424) has passed the state’s House of Representatives and is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education on March 18.

“Our goal,” Klint said, “is to provide Mason County with stable and sufficient funding to ensure that all of our at-risk youth will have the support and services they need for school success and to expand the outcomes we have achieved over the past 10 years to other high-needs, low-performing rural school districts across the state.”

In 2012, Mason Matters received a Roadmaps to Health Community Grant from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps project. Learn more about the grant and its past recipients here.