Gap Year Academy?

Posted on September 11, 2010
by FeliciaOctocog

If you won the birth lottery and 18 years later find yourself holding a high school diploma but totally unprepared for college emotionally and/or academically, you have several choices.  You can get your parents to subsidize a trip to a foreign country and experience living and maybe working abroad. If you are more community-minded, you could volunteer for City Year or some other non-profit. Or, if you want to boost SAT scores or GPA’s to improve your chances at a better college, you can go to a prep school for a year.  In today’s vernacular,  this is called The Gap Year.

But what if you are poor and an older youth immigrant to the US and travelling, private school or volunteering for a year are simply out of your reach.  What if you find that the only way you can go to college (and that is what you came to this country to do), you will need to start by taking mostly development courses (courses that do not earn college credits) at your local community college because you scored too low on your SAT’s or college placement test. And, by the way, using up your federal financial aid to do so.

The only other option you have would be to get your school’s permission (and that is not easy to do) to spend another year in high school.  Few kids want to do that. But what if you really want to go to college?

For many ELL youth that we see, particularly those who arrive in this country as high schoolers, they simply are not ready for college level work because of their literacy skills. Many of these students don’t pass the 10th grade MCAS test until 12th grade and even then they pass at the lowest end of the scale. They simply are not ready for college. Community Colleges do a yeoman’s job trying to bridge the academic gaps for these kids but there is still a 50 – 60% drop out rate.

A possible way to tackle this problem might be a grade 13.  A group of local educators from higher ed, local school districts and community-based organizations have been discussing this concept at the Northeast Regional Readiness Center (this is one of 6 Readiness Centers established by Governor Patrick to bring key educators together to tackle educational issues)   This might be a separate “school” that would provide a gap year between high school and college that would consist of intensive College-Ready English, a work component and at least one credit course. For students also needing math literacy/numeracy help, courses would also be available. All curricula could be tied to student interests and possible careers.

Of course, who is going to pay for this?  Grade 13 falls into no man’s land. I suppose the school district  could use its own resources to fund such a program, perhaps as a Horace Mann Charter  Likewise, the community colleges could produce such a program (Cabrillo Community College in California has a semester-long program that is a bridge program but there is a cost). Another option is for a CBO to get foundation grant money to do this.  Or more practically, all of these entities could pool resources to create a regional program

I have spoken to so many community college (and private college) leaders who all acknowledge this problem exists. Community Colleges want to be colleges, not high schools, but they have tackled the problem because no one else is picking up the ball to do so.  It is time to get creative and proactive about this issue.