Student Achievement

New Program in Colorado Allows 8th Graders to Get Early Start on High School

By Marva Hinton — October 28, 2016 3 min read
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A high school in Colorado plans to open its doors to a select group of 8th graders next fall who want to get a jump on the high school experience.

These students will attend classes on the Littleton High School campus in Littleton, Colo., next year through what the school calls its Early High School program.

Unique Schedule

Students enrolled in the program will take a combination of advanced 8th grade courses in language arts and social studies and typical 9th grade courses in subjects like math, science, and world languages.

“The purpose is to give middle school students who want acceleration a bridge between their middle school and their high school program,” said Amy Oaks, the school’s principal.

The school currently offers an International Baccalaureate program for juniors and seniors, and students who enroll in early high school will have more options when they reach that level.

“The accelerated student who comes early and takes care of 9th grade science in 8th grade can take chemistry and physics before they go into IB,” said Oaks. “Currently, to do that you’d have to double up on your science to squeeze physics in there.”

But the program is not just for advanced students, although it is expected to be particularly attractive to those who have been identified as gifted. To qualify academically, students just need to be able to read on a 9th grade level, and they need to be ready for algebra.

“The bar is not set that high because that is not, in fact, the only student that we think ought to take a look,” said Oaks.

Oaks said students who want to participate in vocational programs off campus or who want to take community college classes as juniors and seniors would also benefit.

“We think those kids will have more flexibility and time in their schedule if they take care of some of the academic requirements sooner, so we’re very, very interested in the kids who are on those pathways, too,” said Oaks.

The program will be capped at about 60 students the first year. Colorado offers school choice, and students from 35 different middle schools in the greater Denver area attend Littleton High. Early High School may very well be an attractive option for parents and students who want more educational opportunities.

But Oaks stresses that the program is not for students who are looking to graduate early. The district’s policy allows students to graduate after completing seven semesters rather than eight, but any student who wants to graduate before that point would have to apply for early graduation.

“We’re not advocating graduating kids who are 16,” said Oaks. “We’re just advocating letting them have a taste, letting them come over here one year early. We’re not even really grade skipping.”

Concerns Outside of Class

In some ways, the 8th graders will be isolated from other students. They will all eat lunch together, for example. But they will also share transportation and participate in clubs and activities with students who may be much older.

When filling slots in the program, administrators will consider students’ social and emotional preparedness for high school.

Still, starting high school is always a big transition for students, and sometimes it can be a little rocky. For instance, what if an 8th grader finds him or herself the victim of bullying?

“What we would do if an 8th grader were bullied is no different from what we would do if a 9th grader or a 10th grader were bullied,” said Oaks. “Bullying is never going to be O.K., and we will always step in and address it.”

Mixing students of such disparate ages also raises concerns about the potential for the development of inappropriate romantic relationships.

Oaks said the school would not be comfortable with an 8th grader dating a senior.

“We’d need to talk to kids about why this is not appropriate and have our counselors on the phone to parents if we’re concerned,” said Oaks.

Students who are interested in enrolling in the program will have to fill out an application that includes an essay on why they’re interested in Early High School and why they feel they’re ready for it. Their parents will also have to submit an essay that addresses those same questions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.