Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Transfer students

I've been finding links to this story, about a home-schooled gifted boy who tries to go to public high school, in a lot of gifted forums over the last couple of days. I feel for this kid, I do. Schools can be really frustrating to work with, as the parents of this boy know -- they pulled him out of public schools when the school's couldn't adequately handle his needs. And no one should have to take the same classes over again if he's already passed them. But I also feel like this is not totally responsible journalism. This is a very one-sided article. The school cannot adequately respond, thanks to privacy laws. And no investigation into their point of view appears to have taken place.

I think the problem here is not so much the giftedness that the author focuses on as the transfer of home-schooled students into the public schools. Schools have strict guidelines they need to follow in order to ensure students have met state mandates. This may or may not be the right approach for any given kid's education, but it's the way public schools work. It does seem to me that community college classes should count for high school providing they meet the requirements of the equivalent class. But do they? The author doesn't tell us that.

Maybe this school really is the bad guy. But in my experience, many, if not most, schools can be convinced to do the right thing if you handle it in the right way. When I was about to start my junior year in high school, I moved to a large urban public high school in Indianapolis, IN, after spending my first two years of high school in Connecticut and France. My Connecticut schools were public too, but were smaller and much more like college prep. I arrived at my new school a year ahead in English and French, and I'd finished the Latin curriculum the new school offered but wanted to keep studying. I was behind in history because, after spending a number of years in Europe, I'd never studied American history. And as my previous school had reduced gym requirements, I had to take freshman gym and health in my senior year -- oh, the humiliation! The school could have told me to just take the courses they offered. It was a huge and very bureaucratic place. But they didn't. In junior English, when the class read Macbeth, which I'd studied the previous year, I worked on Hamlet as an independent study. At every juncture where I'd studied something previously, the teacher let me choose another relevant work instead. In French and Latin, I attended a regular class and got practice speaking, but the teachers assigned me my own work that I did on my own in the back of the room. For the rest of my courses, I was able to make adjustments on my own. By high school, I was my own best advocate. I didn't need my parents' help. And my teachers were just happy, I think, to have a student who wanted to work more instead of less.

As far as I can tell, the difference in my case is that I didn't ask for alternate classes, only alternate work. I wasn't trying to get out of high school early. I just wanted to be challenged. I didn't have to deal with the administration or school board. I worked with the teachers themselves. If there was any red tape to be handled, they handled it. I also wasn't trying to transfer in credit from community college or homeschool curriculums, which may be more difficult. But it seems to me that if the issue is keeping a child challenged, going through the bureaucracy of the school is not the only way to handle it, nor is it even necessarily the best way.


lilac_leaf said...

Was the large high school Warren, by any chance? I mean, I know there are monstrous schools in Indy, but Warren is the largest, I think. I went there for about three months of my senior year - it was terrifying :)

Harriet said...

I went to North Central, which had about 4,000 students when I graduated. I think Warren might have been bigger, but they were both definitely in the same ballpark. Before that, the largest school I'd attended had a total of 800 students. It was a culture shock at the very least. My previous high school (the 800 one) had an open campus, but NC was run like a police state. You couldn't make a move without a hall pass. And where the previous school had four halls that intersected at the center, I needed a map to find my classes in a building with two stories and a large grid of hallways. On the plus side, big schools have bigger facilities. As a violinist, I found many more performing options. And the school had its own planetarium and swimming pool.