Thursday, December 6, 2012

Feeling like a "freshman" in the senior year

The senior year of high school needs to look and feel different for students.  The final year should be the capstone of a learning experience where seniors take college courses and experience career related training.  Seniors should spend more time outside the school making connections, learning how to succeed independently, and preparing for post-secondary training.

In fact, seniors need to feel more like freshman.

Below is an article written by Helaina Thompson, current Solon High School senior, detailing her experience.  Helaina benefits from post-secondary education opportunities (PSEO) where the school pays for her to take college level coursework.  The state allows for weighted funding so this is not an expense that burdens the school.

Shouldn't all of our seniors have an experience like this?

This article was written by Helaina Thompson, a 17 year-old studying physics.
On a typical day I’ll wake up around eight o’clock, drive to Kirkwood Community College (in Cedar Rapids, IA), sit in on a lecture or two, hit up the Kirkwood sushi bar for lunch, go to another class, relax and study on the beach, get in a few hours at work, drive home, eat dinner, then sleep.
Oh, and I’m a high school senior.
At the end of my junior year my principal and I sat down to discuss what my final year of high school would entail. I tentatively brought up the idea of doing some classes second semester at Kirkwood, expecting him to be less than enthused, as the school would be paying for these credits.
Instead, he proposed that I take as many classes as I felt necessary, and why not for the whole year? Not only would this be in my best interest academically, but I think he could sense that I wasn’t feeling another year of traditional high school and craved some change.
This brings me to my present situation: I spend my days learning at Kirkwood, collecting enough college credit to enter the University of Iowa next year as, credits-wise, a sophomore in college. I plan on majoring in physics, so the classes that I currently am or will be taking at Kirkwood are a mixture of gen-eds and more advanced science and math classes that will easily transfer.
Meanwhile, I’m making friends from all over the world and all walks of life, and utilizing my new-found, college student free time to work, volunteer, and focus on goals for my current classes and future education.
I’m not alone. My good friend, Rachel–technically still a junior in high school–is on the community college train too. Rachel is by far the most awesome, artistic person I know. She interns at a local photography business, makes her own clothing, and  instinctively draws things like this:
At the risk of sounding clich√©, a career in art is Rachel’s destiny. For students like her it doesn’t necessarily make sense to, as Rachel puts it, “…go through the motions of high school” and not best prepare themselves for what will surely be an unconventional future.
“I’m not your typical student,” says Rachel, “I need a more individualized experience that high school just can’t offer.”1
Rachel plans to attend Kirkwood for three semesters, study abroad at the London College of Fashion for one semester, spend two years in the Iowa State design program, and finish the remainder of her education at a school of design. By gaining community college credit during her last two years of high school, Rachel will be able to start her career as an artist that much sooner, ideally allowing her success to begin at a younger age.
Rachel and I may be on completely different sides of the academic spectrum, but we have something significant in common: high school just doesn’t jive with us anymore.
It is incredibly frustrating to spend your entire day in a high school building, following policy, but not utilizing time in ways that are meaningful to your future and the person  you strive to be.
While the firm structure of high school may be beneficial to many students, I no longer need it. Why should I be sitting in a class, repeating and reviewing material I already have a grasp on, when I could be working more hours, reading new material, or serving meals to the underprivileged?
Rachel asks, “Why sit in home room, twiddling my thumbs? I should be outside taking photos or sewing a new dress – creating things to add to my portfolio.”
As much as I want to encourage providing high school students with an early college education, this post is by no means an attack on the traditional high school experience. High school is a fantastic environment for many students to learn and grow, to discover their talents, and to socialize with peers and the community.
However, I believe it is ever-so important to promote and offer college credit in high school for those students, like Rachel and myself, ready for more independence and  responsibility, eager to jump start their futures.
Plus, eating sushi daily is pretty great too.
1. Editorial Comment: It strikes the ITE staff that if a student is recognizing the fact that high school is poorly designed to offer individualized curriculum, couldn’t it be easily recognized by the entire community? Is this something that we all actually want to design into the structure of school? If so, what things go and what things stay? Bells? Courses? Teachers?
Here is a link to the original article posted to the Iowa TransformEd site.  

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