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Crunch time: Many seniors scramble to ensure they graduate

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An Indian Creek senior got his acceptance letter to college and then came down with a bad case of senioritis.

Mark Minnick was set to get his academic honors diploma and head off to Indiana University in the fall. So he kicked back and started blowing off assignments. When grade reports came back before the final nine weeks of classes, his English grade had plummeted to an F. Senior English is a required class, and you can’t graduate without passing it.

“If I want to go to college, I need to get this,” Minnick said.

Since then he’s met with his teacher and figured out exactly what he needs to do to pass. Minnick needs to get at least a B on assignments during the last few weeks of classes and get at least a C on his final exam. He’s turning in every assignment now and said he’s past the scare of failing.

About 5 to 10 percent of seniors at Johnson County high schools are on the borderline of not being able to graduate because they didn’t pass required courses or are failing a class they are taking now, school officials said.

Teachers, counselors and administrators monitor students throughout the year and push them especially hard in the final semester to turn in classwork, get extra help and make up classes they failed. Of 135 seniors at Indian Creek, about 10 are at risk of not finishing, and administrators expect one or two might not pass all the classes they need to graduate, Indian Creek High School associate principal Nick Sears said.

Sometimes notifying the students and their parents that they risk failing and getting them to turn in assignments is enough to turn around a bad grade, counselors and administrators said.

Students may be required to meet with teachers before school or during study hall periods to get extra help if they’re struggling on tests.

If some students’ grades have dropped so far that they couldn’t make them up, they can be pulled out of the class and take the course online before graduation day. Those options are available at all six local public high schools.

Counselors at Franklin Community High School get weekly updates from teachers about students who are missing work or failing tests during the final semester.

But monitoring starts much earlier than that, with counselors planning alternatives for a student who might fail a required class in the freshman year, Greenwood counseling director Bill Ronk said.

By the junior year, the pressure from school staff members gets heavier, since students have only so much time during the school day to make up classes they’ve failed, he said.

Any student who doesn’t get all of the required credits before the end of the school year can’t walk with classmates at graduation. If students finish during summer school or after the graduation date, they can still get a diploma but just miss the opportunity to participate in commencement, which is an event that happens only once in your life, Franklin Community High School counselor Jan Henderson said.

Opening a dialogue with the students and their parents is the first step when teens are at risk of failing, Sears said.

In a case like Minnick’s, that was enough to turn around his grade. Minnick’s siblings all finished with honors diplomas, and he wants to be in Bloomington in the fall, so he motivated himself to make sure he graduates.

If students still struggle, teachers can meet with them during the day or before or after school to review lessons or help with homework, Whiteland Community High School guidance director Shannon Fritz said.

Seniors with good grades are allowed to socialize during the built-in study hall period that all students have, but any student with a failing grade has to meet with teachers to work toward getting grades up, she said. The guidance office gets updates on seniors’ grades every four-and-a-half weeks, so someone who failed a big test or didn’t turn in a paper or project gets pulled in and assigned to work with a specific teacher everyday until grades improve, she said.

About 60 of the 457 seniors, or 13 percent, were being required to meet with teachers after the last grade report because they were failing, Fritz said. But only about 20 of those students were truly in danger of not finishing, she said.

Indian Creek senior Shelby Hall has been meeting with her English teacher during study hall periods to improve her failing grade. Her teacher helps with assignments, but mostly the visits keep her on task to finish assignments after she had not turned in a lot of work before. She plans to take courses at Ivy Tech Community College and later transfer to a veterinary technician program, but she knows she needs to finish high school first.

“I used to procrastinate a lot, so I wouldn’t get much of my work done. So I’ve just been doing work and asking for help,” Hall said.

If students can’t make up the time in class or start senior year with more classes to make up than counselors can schedule, the school then will put them into online credit recovery classes or ask them to consider transferring to an alternative school, Henderson said.

Online courses cover the required material, but a student can work on them during study periods or even at home, she said. Those classes also allow students to work at a quicker pace, so they can potentially finish a semester-long class in a fraction of the time if they push themselves, she said.

Cap it off

High school graduation is rapidly approaching, but some seniors are in danger of not finishing because they haven’t made up classes they failed in the past or are failing a current required course. Here’s a look at how many students school officials said are in danger of not graduating:

Whiteland Community High School

457: Senior class size

15 -20 students: At risk of failing

Franklin Community High School

350: Senior class size

About 20: At risk of failing

Greenwood Community High School

240: Senior class size

0: At risk of failing

Indian Creek High School

135: Senior class size

Less than 10: At risk of failing

Note: Figures for Center Grove and Edinburgh Community high schools were not available.

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