Making the Grade: Middleschoolers offered some high school classes

Shari Tolan leads a high-school level class on physical science at Teasley Middle School in Canton.

Shari Tolan leads a high-school level class on physical science at Teasley Middle School in Canton.

While high school students have the option to move onto college classes and dual-enroll at area universities as part of their senior years, teens in middle school have a similar chance to get a jump start on the ninth grade. In the Cherokee County school district, those ready for more challenging academics can sign up for high-school level courses that, much like dual enrollment for college, offer two specific advantages.

“It’s a way to get a lot of the core [high school] courses under the belt,” said Nicole Holmes, Cherokee’s chief academic officer. “If you are a high school student enrolled in AP classes, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room for electives or courses of interest. Having those core courses finished frees up some time in the day to take additional things.”

Taking high school courses early also offers some students the rigorous challenges that keep them engaged, said Holmes. “Some kids are soaking up everything you can put in front of them, so why make them wait until high school to expand into an advanced curriculum?”

The early high school classes have been part of Cherokee’s curriculum for 12 years. The initial offerings were limited to physical science and Spanish, but eventually algebra and geometry were added. Fine arts components are now part of the menu as well.

Currently, 14 middle schools have at least eight advanced courses, including beginning band and beginning chorus, and more than 1,800 students are enrolled.

“By sixth grade, these kids have identified themselves as students who are making all A’s and performing at the distinguished level,” said Holmes. “They maintain those grades and score well on the Milestones test. This year, we’re also looking at providing our special education population opportunities as well.”

The middle school principals work closely with the high schools to determine which classes are a good fit for the students, said Holmes. “It’s very much a partnership. It has to be, since the high schools send the teachers to the middle schools to teach the classes.”

Donnamarie Alcott, a Canton resident whose three children have participated in the early high school classes, said the program has long-term advantages that extend beyond high school. They’ve paid off handsomely for her son, now a sophomore in college.

“He was in the gifted program, and when he got to eighth grade, he was in accelerated classes, so these high school courses were a natural track,” said Alcott. “He took high school math, science and Spanish, and entered high school with three classes already out of the way. That allowed him to take AP classes as a freshman.”

Father down the road, Alcott said having time to take AP classes gave her son an edge when it came time to go to college.

“He took the exams for nine AP classes, and having those credits equated to real dollars,” she said. “He entered Kennesaw State as a second semester freshman, and that has saved us about $9,000. And he’s on track to graduate college a semester early.”

Alcott acknowledges that taking high school courses as an eighth grader isn’t a program that suits every student.

“Every parent has to look at their children individually,” she said. “I hear a lot of my peers say, ‘Why are we pressuring these children?’ But parents have the right to say no if their children can’t handle it. To me, it’s an awesome program that’s one more tool the school can offer to students who are ready to move on.”

Information about the Cherokee County school district: