MISSOULA, Mont. - More than 900 high school freshmen walked the same turf University of Montana Grizzly football players call home.
Missoula County public high schools brought the class of 2017 to UM to reinforce why "Graduation Matters."
The football field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium is an important landmark for many high school kids.
Community leaders invite freshmen to drink it all in.
"I want to be an inspiration to younger kids," said Seeley-Swan High School freshman Alex Bohlman.
The teenager wants it all, to letter in sports all four years, to be a school leader, to graduate.
Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau said 1,700 Montana kids dropped out of public high school last year, or 4.1 percent of the student population.
It's a lower rate than past years, said Juneau, but still too many.
Juneau said there are two very important facets of education -- supportive adults and students who feel connected.
"Making sure students feel like they belong in school," said Juneau, "and that can go a long way to keeping students in school."
Kids are busier than ever, juggling school, social and outside school activities, maybe jobs. It's a challenge.
Seeley's Bradley Miller, also a freshman, said "homework and balancing out between sports," is a juggling act for him. Miller said his mentors are his parents and his coach.
A Seeley-Swan English teacher said her school has a new experimental grade policy.
It dropped giving students 'D's, and teachers work with students to bring their grade up to a proficient 'C.'
"We're giving them the hand to pull them in right now," said Lori Messenger, "to make sure they're not losing important basic skills."
Missoula School Superintendent Alex Apostle said kids who drop out often share two experiences.
"They don't think anybody cares about them and they're bored," said Apostle.
Apostle said classes need to be innovative, often hands-on and relevant.