Life in the academic fast lane

Forget about study halls, creative writing or learning to paint.

For one Franklin Community High School junior, every school day is packed with core classes, including economics, Japanese, U.S history and pre-calculus. He finishes his school day with back-to-back English courses.

Tyler Pangburn also will take an online course in his spare time and study for the SAT, which he’ll take this spring.

But at the end of this school year, Pangburn will graduate, meaning he can start college — and his future career in the biomedical field — a year earlier than his peers.

“I don’t want to sit still. I’d rather progress myself, and being able to do that a whole year early I think is very beneficial,” Pangburn said. “It’s really at this point whether I want to slow down and take the easy route, or if I want to keep going harder.”

In 2012, the state began allowing high school students to graduate at the end of their junior year. Since then, more than 30 local students have taken advantage of that opportunity, and this school year another 20 are attempting the feat. Not everyone is able to do it. Even though 20 students are trying to finish up their classes this year, school officials don’t expect all of them to complete their diploma on time.

In order to qualify, students have to fulfill their 40 core credits, including four years of English courses and three years of math, science and social studies, in the span of three years. That means doubling-up on math or English courses, taking away study halls and working through curriculum at their own pace through online courses and summer classes.

Students also can finish their core classes in three years and then use their senior year as a time to get ahead in college, said Cameron Rains, Clark-Pleasant assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. With more high schools offering Advanced Placement, dual-credit or college courses, a student could get college credits while still in high school, he said.

At Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools, the school board has to give approval to allow students to graduate a year ahead. But at Franklin, approval from the school board isn’t necessary. Students have to alert their guidance counselors about their decision to graduate early when they’re sophomores, so they can pack their class schedules with the courses necessary to earn a diploma.

School officials also interview students about why they want to finish school a year early. Their reasons include wanting to start college early, moving out of state, joining the military or entering the workforce.

Indian Creek High School junior Harley Crews has multiple reasons why she wants to graduate at the end of this school year. Her mom plans to move to Colorado, and Crews doesn’t want to start another school in her senior year. Crews also found out she was pregnant at the beginning of the school year, so she wants to get her diploma before she becomes a mom.

In order to finish early, Crews needs to pass three more English classes, in addition to a full year’s worth of algebra.

“I’m excited to do it, but it’s really stressful,” Crews said.

Instead of having a traditional school day with other students, Crews attends the Indian Creek Learning Center, where she works online only, Indian Creek High School Principal Luke Skobel said. By working at her own pace, Crews can finish each semester-long class in about half the time, Skobel said.

Crews has an additional challenge: She attends school for half-a-day and then works at a fast-food restaurant in Martinsville five days a week.

To keep her on track, Crews’ teachers created a schedule for her to follow. She must pass four or five tests in her classes each week to graduate on time, Crews said.

Pangburn doubled up on classes early in his high school career, taking both geometry and Algebra 2 at the same time his sophomore year to get math classes out of the way. But at the time, he wasn’t doing it to graduate early, he said.

But at the end of last school year, he realized he could graduate at the end of his junior year — even with an academic honors diploma — if he took one class online in addition to his planned schedule.

Pangburn and Crews are now trying to narrow their options for colleges and potential career choices.

Crews said she has wanted to work as a mechanic on motorcycles but also is considering a career as a graphic designer. Pangburn said he thought about going into accounting, marketing and dermatology, but now his top choice is entering the biomedical field.

Pangburn still forgets that he is technically part of the senior class, he said.

“It snuck up on me,” Pangburn said. “I completely forgot that I’m not a junior right now. I need to be acting like a senior. I have to put myself out there and apply to colleges and really hammer down what I want to do.”

By the numbers

Here’s a look at how many students attempted to graduate early from high school in the past two years:

Whiteland Community High School

This year: 10

Last year: 17

Franklin Community High School

This year: 8

Last year: 5

Indian Creek High School

This year: 2

Last year: 1

Source: Individual school districts

At a glance

Here’s what is required to graduate:

8 credits of English (four years)

6 credits of math

6 credits of social studies

6 credits of science

2 credits of physical education

1 credit of health and wellness

5 credits of a foreign language, technical or fine arts class

6 credits of elective classes of a student’s choice