DAYTON — Last year, Tongue River High School senior Morgan Warren blazed a trail not traveled by any other TRHS student before — she graduated with her associate degree from Sheridan College before receiving her high school diploma.

This year, TR seniors Bailey Webber and Brielle Prehemo continue the feat as the school’s second- and third-ever dual graduates.

Webber and Prehemo had to endure two separate letdowns — not finishing their high school senior year alongside classmates and not being able to walk the stage in Sheridan for graduation two weeks before doing the same thing in Dayton. Anyone earning an associate degree alongside a high school diploma put in many extra hours of classwork, in addition to other extracurricular activities.

School faculty and staff, though, are aiding those students any way they can. Three teachers have the ability to teach concurrent classes that count for high school and college credit, about eight or nine classes in total. Through those and dual enrollment classes, TR students can earn close to 20 credits sitting in Dayton classrooms.

“Looking at our Tongue River population, any financial help (students) can get into college can really benefit them,” Tongue River High School counselor Dede Collins said. “That was a district decision to do what we can to ease that burden, and we have received great support from the district office.”

District faculty and staff are implementing College Level Examination Program testing for Spanish III students. Although the current faculty member teaching the advanced foreign language at TR does not hold qualifications to teach a concurrent class for Sheridan College, the district is fostering the ability for students wishing to obtain college credit to complete a CLEP test to test out of the college course in the future.

Webber also said teachers and faculty both from Tongue River and Sheridan College aided in her transition to all online courses following COVID-19 pandemic closures. While most of her college courses were online to begin with, the transitions of some courses like biology and calculus, which were taught in the TRHS classroom, took a bit of extra concentration.

“A lot of it has been really adapting to what’s been given to us and putting in a lot more time than originally was expected,” Webber said. “A lot of the time is spent adapting, paying attention and making sure we understand the content thoroughly. Some people can take their notes and do their online testing, but with these classes you have to make sure you really understand the material and you’re really absorbing it before you can go into any test.”

Webber began putting in the hours sophomore year, and Prehemo put in six credits each semester her senior year in addition to loading up her junior year, as well.

“(Prehemo’s) really worked her butt off,” Collins said, noting the difficulty of filling zero-hour classes for two straight years to accomplish an associate degree. “She just made the decision to get it done.”

For students living or attending school in Dayton, the distance to the college makes it more difficult to acquire degrees from Sheridan College, whereas Big Horn and Sheridan high school students have the ability to attend classes on the college campus. Often, TR students have to enroll in summer school to earn an associate.

Webber started at TRHS as a freshman after attending school in Billings. She said the school has a well-established routine for students wishing to move forward in education and take accelerated classes, making it easy for her to obtain post-secondary education while in high school.

“Tongue River had a really good way for managing that,” Webber said. “They could test you, see that if you could get into college classes, you would, and that seemed really cool to me because I had the opportunity to get a degree from a college here while I was in high school and still get high school credit for it, too.

“The high school would pay for it and I would get recognition for it, so it was great that I could do that while I was in high school and get a pretty good jumpstart on a career,” she said.

Webber and Prehemo could still be considered trailblazers of their time, accomplishing a feat only three students ever have in the history of Tongue River graduates. Staff and faculty will continue creating paths for those wishing to blaze ahead, too, with alternative options for devoted students wishing to graduate twice in one year.