Some Indiana students have new paths to graduation amid push to ‘reinvent’ high school

Indiana students at a handful of school districts have new ways to graduate, and the pathways could expand to more schools throughout the state. 

The State Board of Education on Wednesday approved three locally created graduation tracks at two school districts and one adult learning center. They will allow students to earn diplomas and certificates by taking certain courses related to entering the workforce, including in one case potentially getting a job with the district, or enlisting in the military. 

District leaders said that the paths could be replicable at schools throughout the state as the legislature considers a push to “reinvent” the high school experience

The pathways are authorized under 2017 state graduation requirements that are meant to give students more flexibility in earning a diploma. They allow students to graduate via a local track, in lieu of more traditional requirements like earning college-ready test scores or taking advanced classes. The state has previously approved four other such pathways, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Yorktown High School Principal Stacey Brewer said Yorktown schools’ new graduation track is intended for students who aim to go directly into the workforce after high school. Existing options have been limited for students who don’t want to enter a specific trade, she added. 

“Not all students are destined for immediate entrance into postsecondary education, the military, or trade schools,” Brewer said. “Some students will be successful, contributing members of our community working in food service, maintenance, and groundskeeping, to name a few professions.”

Yorktown schools will begin identifying students who are interested in this track in eighth grade, Brewer said, with a course on preparing for college and careers.

No more than 5% of a cohort will be admitted to the pathway in high school, where they’ll train in skills that employers prioritize, like bookkeeping and personal finance, and communicating effectively. 

They’ll also receive preferential interviews and hiring from local employers — including Yorktown schools, Brewer said. Students in the pathway will receive training in school-based topics like bullying and seclusion and restraint. 

If they get a job during high school, they’ll be able to use time during the school day to get work experience. 

The pathway received vocal support from Secretary of Education Katie Jenner and other board members, who noted that students who opt to join the workforce often take a graduation waiver instead of completing a diploma. 

“This is a pathway that provides a solution for a group of young adults who deserve similar opportunities as their peers to gain experience, complete training, and build their resume in order to achieve their goal of being workforce ready,” Brewer said.  

Another new pathway will also emphasize workforce opportunities, but for adult learners taking classes toward their high school diplomas at the Goodwill Industries-sponsored Excel Center in Gary. 

Called Catapult Training, the program will allow students to take shorter-term certification courses from the Excel Center and Ivy Tech. By doing so, students are guaranteed interviews and higher wages with certain employers who are involved in the pathway, said Trent Moore, the director of career and technical education at Goodwill Industries of Michiana. 

A final new program at the School City of Hammond will emphasize military enlistment. Board member Byron Ernest said the pathway might be the first such track in the state. 

In addition to taking four years of JROTC classes, students on this track will complete a service learning or community service project, attend leadership conferences, take college courses, and participate in military visits, said Cassandra Shipp, Hammond’s assistant superintendent for academic services.

The goal is for students to either enlist in the military at a higher rank and at higher pay than they would otherwise, or to transfer their skills and courses to a college or university, Shipp said. 

Though the program is designed to be a four-year track, students can opt in at any point during their high school careers, Superintendent Scott Miller noted. 

The state’s four other locally created pathways include a Civic Arts pathway at Greater Clark County Schools, and a Recreation Vehicle Construction pathway at Wa-Nee Community Schools. 

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at [email protected].

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