DIPLOMA TIME ALREADY?

In the eight months before she leaves for college, Katie Giddens will work two jobs and save as much money as she can.

She still might attend prom and plans to participate in commencement in the spring, but she’ll miss other traditions typically reserved for seniors during their final semester at Franklin Community High School.

Giddens opted to finish high school a semester early, which was a choice her friends have questioned. But for Giddens and 104 other local graduates, graduating early gives them time to save money and prepare for college or a career.

Giddens hopes to have at least $3,000 saved by the end of summer. She’ll need that to help pay for the $10,000 to $15,000 per year she expects in college costs. She will have to pay for any expenses not covered by financial aid with either student loans or money from her own pocket.

But she’s also ready to be finished with high school.

“As a lot of seniors will attest to, it’s very difficult to have the motivation to continue doing high school work when you’ve hit (this) age and grade,” Giddens said. “You feel like you are being treated like a child, and you don’t want that anymore. You want to move on.”

The number of seniors graduating a semester early is up about 19 percent this year, after 88 local students graduated early in 2013. This year, Franklin had the most early graduates in the county at 54, more than double the 21 students who finished early last year, assistant principal Leah Wooldridge said.

Most of the county’s early graduates are earning either

Core 40 or academic honors diplomas. A total of 10 students, all from Franklin, are earning general diplomas, which don’t require students to earn as many credits in specific classes.

Wooldridge isn’t sure why the number of early Franklin graduates increased this year, and principals don’t always want students to leave early because they don’t want them to miss out on classes or social experiences they’ll only get in high school, Wooldridge said.

“We want to keep them, so we can have them for one more year and help coach them for one more year,” Wooldridge said.

But educators also don’t want those students determined to graduate early to drop out so they can start working or making other plans, Wooldridge said.

“Some students are meeting their requirements early so they can get a leg up on college,” Wooldridge said. “Some know in order to go to college they’ll have to start making money as fast as they can, so they need the opportunity to do that.”

That group includes Franklin senior Ashley Romine.

Romine has been accepted to the IUPUI Kelley School of Business, but she’ll have to pay for any expenses, including tuition, housing and books, that aren’t covered by scholarships. That’s why she wants to make at least $5,000 by the end of the summer working at Quiznos, and graduating early gives her a head start.

“I never doubted that I would be able to graduate, but I’m kind of surprised I was able to do it early,” Romine said.

Students can’t decide on a whim that they want to graduate early. Meeting the requirements for the general, Core 40 or academic honors diplomas means students need to start taking courses early, usually in middle school or by the start of the freshman year at the latest.

Giddens and Romine never considered graduating early until their junior years, but both started taking high school courses in math while they were still in middle school. They also opted to take more required and Advanced Placement courses, instead of study halls, in high school.

Midway through their junior year, they realized that they had completed most of the courses needed to graduate with academic honors diplomas and decided that this semester would be their last.

Both had friends who asked them to reconsider leaving early, largely so they had at least one more semester to spend time together in school. But once they both realized they had the option of graduating early, it was difficult to change their minds, they said.

Still, both will see their high school friends again in the spring when they’re back for commencement.

“I’m not going to go through 13 years of school to not be able to walk across that stage,” Giddens said.

Pull Quote

“As a lot of seniors will attest to, it’s very difficult to have the motivation to continue doing high school work when you’ve hit (this) age and grade. You feel like you are being treated like a child, and you don’t want that anymore. You want to move on.”

Katie Giddens, Franklin Community High School senior, on graduating early