New Plymouth School District and Sage International Charter School in Boise have both applied to be a part of an early graduation pilot project that will allow students to graduate early and receive state-funded scholarships for doing so. Officials with the two educational entities, still awaiting confirmation they will be accepted into the program, have widely-differing plans if accepted.
Students who graduate early and choose to attend a publicly-funded college or university will receive a state-sponsored scholarship based on the amount it would have taken to educate the student in the years they will be skipping. It is likely that scholarships could amount to about $1,600 per student for each year graduated early. Students are only allowed to graduate three years early.
Principal Don Keller with Sage International School says the early graduation program will play right into the plans he has for his students. Keller told IdahoReporter.com that Sage will work to offer an international high school degree program which will push students to graduate in the 10th grade. The degree isn’t universally accepted at Idaho’s colleges and universities, but at least one state school – the University of Idaho in Moscow – will accept students with the international degree.
While the early graduation program worked its way through the Idaho Legislature, the opponents of the bill – though relatively few in number – voiced concerns that students who graduate early might not be socially prepared to face the world at an earlier age than usual. Is that a problem for Sage students? Maybe, maybe not, says Keller. ”We have families that would like to get their kids out in the 10th grade,” explains Keller. If the program works, he believes, Idaho’s college and universities may work to recruit early graduates. ”Maybe colleges and universities will design their systems a little differently to handle the younger students,” Keller said.
Still, supporters of the program know not every student will be interested. Sage International is planning to require intense workloads to enable students to qualify for the early graduation degree by the end of the 10th grade. That extreme course load, the principal points out, might scare some students and families away from early graduation. ”It might not be for everyone,” Keller says. ”But students will have the option.”
Ryan Kerby, superintendent of the New Plymouth School District also isn’t concerned about the social readiness of students who graduate early. ”We need to give the parents some credit here,” said Kirby. ”They are not going to send a 16-year-old student out into the world if he is not ready. But I think there are some that are prepared for that.”
Parents in New Plymouth, the superintendent says, are the reason the district decided to jump into the project. ”The parents wanted to give it a go,” said Kerby. But the district plans to use the early graduation program differently than Sage International. The superintendent thinks students who take advantage of the program will push through their high school coursework at a rapid pace in order to take dual-enrollment classes, which are good for college credits. That will mean cost savings for families in the area because dual-enrollment classes are typically cheaper than college classes.
Plus students will be able to experience all the activities of high school life while forwarding their college educations. ”It’s a great time of life and we don’t think too many kids will want to rush through it,” concluded Kerby.
Initial applications for the program were due Sept. 1. Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education, says that 15 school districts from different parts of the state have applied to participate in the six-year pilot program. Districts include Blackfoot, Independent School District of Boise City, Cottonwood, Emmett, Gooding, Hagerman, Highland (of Craigmont), Jerome, Kellogg, Kuna, Lapwai, Orofino, Potlatch, and St. Maries have joined New Plymouth in throwing their hats into the ring. Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy is also asking the department for consideration and is the only public charter school besides Sage International to do so.
Another round of applications must be submitted by Nov. 1, 2010. It is expected that districts and charter schools with be notified of their acceptance into the program in mid-December. There is limited space; only 21 districts, split into three categories based on district size, will be accepted. Districts and charter schools that sign up are strongly encouraged to commit to all six years of the program, but are not required to stay until the end if they feel the program is ineffective.