We Should TRY to Offer Extra Year for High School Seniors

You know that saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying?” I’ve always been fascinated by that phrase. It’s not that I believe in it (because I don’t), but I’m humored by the idea that cheating is a form of effort.

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Here’s a phrase every human has heard at some point in their life; “Just try it, and if you don’t like it then you don’t have to eat it.” This one, too; “It’s worth a try.” Better yet; “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” A popular one with parents is, “If he tried as hard in the classroom as he does on the field, then he’d be a straight-A student.” Hell, all you Daniel Tiger fans have an entire song memorized; 🎵“Try, try, try, try it again… Keep trying, you’ll get better.”🎵

Every personal preference – from the food you eat to the spouse you choose – began with a tryout. Every piece of technology went through a trial-and-error phase. Every parent tries to set their child up for success. Aren’t we always trying? Even when you’re not trying to attend that Christmas party, you’re still trying to get out of it. The only way to accomplish something is to give it some form of effort. So why is it so outlandish to ask local governments to sit down and try to create a fifth-year option for current high-school seniors?

To you naysayers, nobody cares for your instant rejection. And if you’re one of those people saying, “It’s pointless, it will never work,” then please just exit stage left before reading any further.

The fact is that there’s a large group of families desperate for an extra year of high school because COVID has put their kid in a bad spot. Some parents want it because their child hasn’t been provided a quality education. Others want it so their kid has a better chance of getting into the school of their choice. And of course, there’s the group of high-school athletes that want an extra year for recruiting purposes.

Do I think it’s a reasonable request? Do I think it’s even possible? Well, that doesn’t matter. And your opinion on those questions doesn’t matter either. What matters is the existence of a tremendously large group of high-school families that are begging for some form of relief. That group deserves to be heard. They’re pleading for somebody, anybody, to at least try.

If it’s going to happen, it must be done by the states and/or local governments. I’m not about to dive into educational jurisdiction, but I will say there are plenty of locations around the country that have the flexibility to create a fifth-year program if they desire. And it’s within reason to ask those governing bodies to try.

Creating the Class of 5.0 certainly comes with an overwhelming number of obstacles. But did I miss the memo on a new policy stating we should give up in the face of adversity? My wife is an educator and I have 10+ years in the system as a teacher, administrator, coach, and athletic director. That’s not to say my household definitively knows there’s a way to enact a fifth-year program, but we have enough exposure to confidently say there’s room for discussion.

The low-hanging fruit in the argument is to say there’s simply not enough physical space for a group of fifth-year high school seniors to linger for another year. Oh, really? So, you know the landscape of every county in every state across America? Maybe there’s no room in your community, but that doesn’t mean other counties lack space. And even in the most populated counties (such as my hometown back in the 954), there are ways to make some space.

First off, participating in the Class of 5.0 would be optional. We’re not talking about holding back every high-school senior in the country. The most basic canvass can give local officials a reasonable estimate of how many students would opt-in. And I predict – if they try to get the numbers – the actual participation level would be much less than what many would initially expect.

The last time a census was conducted (2010), the National Center for Education Statistics calculated the average US high school population was 854. It’s fair to estimate one-fourth of those students were seniors (214 seniors). Now, let’s hypothesize that 25% of those seniors would elect to return for a fifth year (and I think that’s a high estimate). Based on this math, the average high school would be asked to handle a total of 54 students in the Class of 5.0.

I understand this math is unscientific, populations have grown, and Chicago’s public schools are well above the national average. But I don’t think this five-minute estimate is outlandish. More importantly, the point here is that it’s possible to come up with a real estimate if governing bodies are willing to try.

Even if the average Class of 5.0 consists of 100 students, there’s still plenty of physical space to accommodate them in many counties. Some towns may find the numbers are so small that they can house the 5.0 students in the brick and mortars, while other cities will need to get creative. So, why not try to get creative? Nothing says fifth-year seniors need to be on the same schedule as the “normal” grad years. Traditional norms do not need to apply during a global crisis.

5.0 Programs can be on a part-time schedule. They can be 100% virtual. The Class of 5.0 could operate as a night school. It can be a weekend-only school. The 5.0 classroom can be moved off campus by expanding internships and OJT curriculums. Make the curriculum include more community service and less in-class time while still offering a satisfying level of continuing education. There IS room for discussion here.

If the numbers are just too much to handle, then make it a lottery or application-based program that enrolls the manageable amount. Do whatever you want. Do whatever you can. Just try to do something in a time where something should be done.

Regardless of how good or bad you think the decision was, the NCAA at least did something that offers an optional layer of protection for their kids. In response, the NJCAA made a decision that protects its kids. D3 copied the NJCAA in a ruling to ensure D3 student-athletes don’t lose a year of eligibility. Who is protecting the 2021 high school kids? Well… it seems like nobody is right now. It doesn’t even seem like people are trying. But state and local officials have the power, resources, and brains to find a way. The question is whether they’re willing to put in some form of effort to make it happen.