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High School in 5 Years?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

When a student struggles in academics, one solution may be to ease the course load. In doing so, however, it may become mathematically impossible for a student to fulfill all of a school’s credit requirements to earn a high school diploma in four years. So when the question arises about a student converting high school, which is commonly designed as a four-year program, to a five-year plan, what is the right answer?

“Some kids need a lighter load of classes,” said Joy Young, high school principal at Hill Country Christian School of Austin, TX. “I’m all for it to allow a student to show what they can do without the pressure cooker of the four years. Sometimes we need to slow the pace of the journey.”

For some families, the request for an extra year of high school stems from an emotional place. “Some kids are emotionally and socially behind other kids,” said Carl Carlson, upper school head at Tampa Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. “They aren’t ready to go off to college and they need another year of growth and maturity.”

On the subject of college, independent school graduates typically are better prepared for college and are able to complete college on time, with better grades. In a FastStats on college graduation trends, Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell presented data from the SAIS Value Narrative Survey showing that 84% of independent students graduate from college within four years. Among flagship and research public universities, the data shows that only 36% of students graduate on time.

Tampa Prep has had several students repeat a year of high school, and prefers for that course of action to be taken in a lower grade, such as ninth or tenth. That is also the case at The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, which serves students with mild learning differences. If a student repeats a grade, “we tend to do a double sophomore year or a double junior year so they don’t do senior activities twice,” explained High School Principal Laura Finnell.

Some fifth-year seniors are able to work in internships or take dual enrollment college courses while completing their high school credits. Others are just looking for a lighter schedule spread out over five years instead of four years. “It reduces anxiety and they have another year to mature,” Finnell said.

If students are just trying to get ahead in athletics, the fifth year likely won’t help them. One school fielded a request from a family wanting their son to get an extra year of travel ball to be more attractive to colleges. Most independent schools must adhere to their state athletic associations, which typically allow only four years of competitive high school playing time. 

At Tampa Prep, two students who repeated ninth grade will not be able to compete as seniors due to Florida state rules, but the school can allow them to practice with varsity teams or help coach lower level teams. They also can play club sports outside of school or pursue other extracurricular interests.

Another down side of repeating a year of high school is feeling left behind or left out. “It can be difficult to see classmates move on but a student can also have friends in both grades,” Carlson said.

“Teenagers can be self-conscious about it,” Finnell said.

All principals agreed that schools must review on a case-by-case basis. “Being thoughtful about the sequencing of education is important, as is being thoughtful about a kid – who they are and where they are,” Carlson said.

“If we have the option, why wouldn’t we have the conversation?” Young asked. “We do this fifth year in college often, so why not do it in independent school?” 


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