Lost Opportunities

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Rebecca Leech discusses the need to offer more options for students who aren’t thriving in a traditional academic setting in her September 2014 Educational Leadership article, “Rethinking High School Pathways.” Here, she shares the story of a student who she believes would have benefitted from the opportunity to take part in more hands-on learning at a technical college.

Martin, a 17-year-old young man with a learning disability in math, was referred to my graduation initiative after he had been suspended for cursing at his math teacher. Not only had he cursed, he had cried in front of the entire class, which was, from his perspective, an irreparable embarrassment. It was near the end of his junior year, and he was begging to drop out of school. I taught him math in a small group for the rest of the semester and hoped to find a way to get him through the next year.Leech EL

My plan was to arrange a dual-enrollment schedule for him with our local college of applied technology, where he could attend part time, earning technical qualifications in his chosen area of automotive technology while also earning elective credits that counted toward the credits he needed to finish high school. In the afternoons, he would attend our high school to complete his mandatory academic requirements. Many academically oriented seniors at our school have similar dual-enrollment schedules with community colleges, so it made sense to me that a technical student could do the same. I soon found that the process of setting up Martin’s dual-enrollment in a technical college was far more complex for several reasons:

  • Funding: Tennessee offers a dual-enrollment grant that Martin would qualify for, but there was still a gap of about $300 that his family would have to pay out of pocket.
  • Lack of course alignment between technical college and high school credits: While each academic dual-enrollment credit has an aligned course code for a high school credit, no such system is in place in our county for credits from a technical college.
  • Limited mentoring and guidance: While our high school guidance counselors are dedicated and hardworking, they simply don’t have the time or expertise to provide individualized guidance to make all alternative pathways work.

Martin ended up transferring to our adult high school setting to complete the minimum high school graduation requirements, but he was yet another lost opportunity to make high school relevant to a struggling student. Martin is one of many students I’ve encountered who yearn for options that U.S. high schools don’t often provide. We need to address this issue and figure out ways to offer students like Martin the opportunity, funding, and guidance to pursue alternative dual-enrollment paths.

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