BISMARCK, North Dakota — When Gracey Claymore graduated from McLaughlin High School in the spring, one of her teachers told her she was surprised to see her at the ceremony.
"You were never in class," the teacher said.
"But I'm still smart," Claymore responded. "I pulled it off, somehow."
The well-spoken teenager explained her struggle with attendance Tuesday to an audience gathered at the Capitol for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction's second Indian Education Summit, The Bismarck Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1HfZ5Of ).
Claymore used to go to school in Mandan. There, she said, teachers stayed on track. Students who fell behind went to another classroom for extra help.
That wasn't the case in McLaughlin, South Dakota. She felt alone in Mandan, prompting her to move back to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
"I couldn't learn because we were always waiting for another student," said Claymore, adding that teachers too often encouraged her and her classmates to study independently while they worked to catch a single student up on the lesson.
Her boredom prompted her to pretend to be sick so she could skip school.
Nine other high school and college students from Standing Rock shared stories about their education before departing Tuesday afternoon for the White House's first tribal youth gathering on Thursday.
Many thanked the state and federal officials and school employees sitting in the audience for listening attentively to what they had to say, urging them to keep their words in mind.
Those in college spoke about the transition from high school.
Kendrick Eagle, a 2011 Solen High School graduate, said he had to take remedial classes for no credit when he started at Bismarck State College.
English was a particular struggle. There was little consistency in what his high school English teachers taught, he said.
"My grammar was messed up. I don't think I ever wrote an essay in high school," said Eagle, who could not keep up with the frequent papers assigned in his BSC English class, ultimately failing and losing his scholarships.
He has since returned to school with a renewed focus to become an architect. He took that English class again, this time earning a B.
Shayla Gayton said she felt prepared for college culture when she left McLaughlin for Purdue University in Indiana. A teacher pushed her to travel to various camps in high school, which exposed her to a college-like environment.
She found, however, that she wasn't ready to handle the workload.
"I was more interested in going to the gym to play basketball because that's what I did in high school," she said. "I didn't have homework. I didn't have to study for tests."
She has since enrolled at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, where she says she is doing well. She plans to finish school there, then move to a larger college to pursue a degree in psychology.
The students also shared what helped them succeed in school.
Tara Marrowbone, a McLaughlin student, lives 30 miles out of town without a reliable way to get to class.
"I'm very lucky I had a teacher who was willing to let me ride with them to and from school," she said.
Teachers who went out of their way to connect with students also helped Claymore. When she didn't show up to class, a teacher — the one surprised she graduated — always called her house asking where she was.
Hall monitors' cheery attitudes also helped, she said.
"When they say 'good morning,' they're happy to see you and it makes you feel good," she said.
The 10 students who spoke at the summit expressed their desire to pursue higher education.
Eagle, for one, said he hopes to set an example for the four younger brothers he's raising in Bismarck.
"I want to make them proud," he said. "I want to get a degree for them to show they can get one, too."
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com