The Gift of Time: Extending High School
By Christa Sterken
“She’s not ready.”
Silence hung in the air between us. Being brought up with a public school mindset, it was a totally foreign idea to hold back our ninth-grader. My gut told me to put the brakes on, but presenting it to my husband was another story, one that required prayer, research, thoughtful planning, and discussion. The idea had been brewing for months, but it was such a far-out concept that I was hesitant to suggest it.
As our child began ninth grade this year, it quickly became apparent that she needed more time to master several academic concepts. The question started becoming louder in my head: “Why can’t we keep her home an extra year?” As my husband and I started discussing all the pros and cons, we agreed that an added year was best for this child. It became an exciting proposition that has turned into a reality.
Perhaps you have a child who isn’t cut out to follow the scope and sequence predetermined for him? The reasons vary. Learning disabilities are often cited, as are parents who desire to give their children “extra” education regarding life skills etc. A good dose of prayer is a great first step when deciding if this path might benefit your family. Psalm 139:14 states: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Applying Scripture to this concept provided clarity and established confidence. Our children are unique, and each one is created to live and learn according to his or her personal makeup. Guidelines are important and designed to be helpful, but each child must be considered individually, and serious thought must be given to what kind of plan suits his needs best. It is hard to decide to go against the established norm, but as a parent you know the needs and abilities of your child better than anyone else does.
It turns out that our story is not original. Many families have decided on some version of an extended high school for their children. We attempted research but found there were no books or articles available that supported a five-year high school plan. One fantastic source of encouragement came from online homeschool groups. The advice flowed generously as people shared their thoughts. These groups can be an excellent venue for posing questions and having candid discussions. Ask questions, seek the counsel of others who have experienced similar situations, and be blessed by their input. Check out the laws in your state, you should be protected within your right as a parent to choose an individualized program. For our school records, we simply will start her transcripts with year A, ending four years later with year B.
If you feel led to pursue this path, now it is time to plan a few logistics. “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Proverbs 15:22) Grabbing a pad of paper, make two simple columns titled “Pros” and “Cons.” This is essential. Without clarifying why you are making this decision, it will be difficult to stand firm later, when you are questioned. It is highly likely that someone will challenge this plan. Being prepared with your answers makes it easier to defend your choices, should you choose to do so. Remember, you have the right to make this choice; a list may give you an added boost of confidence with which to carry out your plan.
Write down every conceivable challenge and benefit while considering your family’s needs. For example, our teen expressed a desire to take two years for her difficult courses such as Biology and Algebra, due to a sincere desire to go slowly and understand them better. She is aware and comfortable with her learning capabilities and knows an extra year will allow her to learn at her own pace. We have spent a considerable amount of time discussing how God created us all to have different skills. She is aware of where her challenges and strengths lie, and she is excited about the five-year plan. Take a look at the sidebar for more information about discussing this with your teen.
It is imperative to remember that every child is different. There is no magic graduation age that suddenly qualifies them as responsible adults. It is a wonderful gift to be able to know our children and help them make wise choices. Apart from the temporary insecurity that naturally accompanies a decision that would be open to scrutiny by the public, we were unable to identify any cons. We have valid reasons for this choice, and those reasons offer us comfort.
Homeschooling mom, Alissa, shares: “The public school guidelines are arbitrary and really don’t always make sense for homeschoolers. We don’t have thousands of children to organize and test and account for. A true education is one that develops over a lifetime, not for twelve years in a room with one’s peers. Who says ‘high school’ must be completed by 17 or 18? Does the learning stop at this magical age?”
Helping Teens Find Answers
We wanted our teen to have a firm grasp on why our family chose this route. We explained that although our family decided to pursue a five-year high school plan, she might encounter people who would express curiosity. Consequently, she needed to be able to respond to inquiries clearly and confidently. Don’t send your child out on her own without helping her formulate excellent answers to potential questions.
Role-playing is an excellent way to casually see how your students respond to critical questions. Your preparation in considering whom the child might come in contact with, and tossing out possible questions, can help your family avoid feeling the need to be defensive and instead—be confident. For example, how might grandparents respond? What about the youth group leader? Neighbors who know what grade your child was in last year, wondering why he is still in that grade this year? Kids who feel sorry for them? Friends or peers? We told our teen she was not obligated to explain our choices; rather, we helped her define what she believed so that she could give ready answers.
This exercise can be somewhat silly, with outrageous questions mixed with serious ones. A variety of questions provides a great way to practice responding without confusion. We made it clear to her that some people still won’t “get” it, and that is ok. That doesn’t make it a bad idea!
In conclusion, I am in no way advocating that the decision to extend high school years beyond the traditional four-year period is right for every family. Many children will still follow the traditional four-year high school plan with great success. Some will finish early and be completely prepared for leaving the nest.
Others, like this child of ours, benefit from extra time at home. As these students progress through their high school studies, they might even decide to work toward a goal of finishing earlier than planned. I encourage you to evaluate each student’s specific needs and adjust accordingly, prayerfully, and wisely, thus equipping the student to go forth with self-assurance into adulthood.
Weighing the Pros/Cons With Your Teens
This is a critical step that must be implemented in order to successfully adjust a student’s high school plan. Admittedly, it was difficult to start the flow of conversation as we sat down to discuss this topic. Our teen was hesitant at first to work on this, but her enthusiasm grew quickly, and the time was fruitful. With the use of simple charts, we started listing any perceived benefits from extending high school to a five-year program; we also listed any potential drawbacks.
In the discussion, nothing was off limits. The key to our success pivoted on reassuring our daughter that she played a key role in the decision. It was all for her benefit, and therefore we needed to know how she felt. Your teen might surprise you with his or her viewpoint, giving you a green light to share new ideas.
Christa Sterken is married to her best friend, Art, and is grateful for the opportunity to homeschool their two amazing daughters. What an exciting journey it is! She enjoys sharing life observations through her freelance writing. You can find her at http://christasterken.wordpress.com/.
Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at Schoolhouse Store, where shipping is always free (U.S. only)!