PHOENIX — This month, instead of heading back to high school to grind out that last semester of classes, a few seniors will be moving on to the next phase of their lives.
These teenagers have accumulated enough credits to skip spring term and graduate early.
“I’m ready,” said Diana Navarro, 17, who finished at North High School in the Phoenix Union High School District in December. She’s moving to Douglas to help her mother, who has a business there, and will attend Cochise College.
“I’m mature enough and responsible enough to start college.”
Midyear high-school graduates are rare. The state Department of Education doesn’t keep statistics on the number of early graduates, but several districts report that there are usually only a few each December. Craig Pletenik, spokesman for the Phoenix Union district, said that in December 2011, there were 157 from all 16 schools in the district.
The reasons for finishing early vary. For Garrett Dean Boyd, who finished last week at Cactus Shadows High School, the timing is perfect.
Boyd, an actor, will now have his days free to participate in the intensive audition process that happens every January in Los Angeles for casting the new fall TV shows.
“Because I look young, I can play a young teen on a TV show, but because I just turned 18, I can work longer hours, which is really beneficial,” he said.
Boyd, who started acting during high school, signed with a casting agent in Los Angeles a few months ago and decided during the summer to try to graduate early.
“If I don’t get out there now, who knows what could happen, so it’s really important,” he said. “And I’m really excited.”
Boyd has traveled to Los Angeles frequently over the last year for auditions and “callbacks,” or second auditions, including one for a Spike Lee movie.
The abundance of online classes and the ability at many schools to take community-college classes that count for high-school credit make it easier than ever to finish a semester early. However, the class of 2013 is the first that’s required to complete 22 credits to graduate, up from 20 credits two years ago.
Navarro took a summer class and a night class to finish up her credits. Boyd took one semester of English online and a full load in the fall, rather than the typical half-day that many seniors take.
Steve Bebee, principal at Cactus Shadows, which is in the Cave Creek Unified School District, said that more seniors could finish in December if they decided to take a full schedule of classes in the fall.
Cassie Miller, also from Cactus Shadows, knew from her freshman year that early graduation was a possibility. The 6-foot-tall soccer goalie – a member of the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team – visited Florida State University during her freshman year, where the coaches told her they wanted incoming freshmen on the team to start in the spring semester.
“Being a college freshman can be stressful and hard, so the coaches said that it’s good to come early and take the harder classes in the spring, and do spring training with the team before the soccer season starts in September,” Miller said.
Miller, who committed to Florida State in her sophomore year, took two classes last summer and completed her senior English class in her junior year to make sure she would finish by midyear.
Miller took her last exams on Friday and will move into a Florida State dorm next week.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” the 17-year-old said of the sudden change.
There’s no incentive for schools to get seniors to finish early, especially because it means the students won’t be attending in January, when the “100-day” student count determines how much per-pupil funding the school will receive the following year.
“But we’re in the business of graduating high-school students, and if they graduate early, it’s better than not graduating at all,” Bebee said.
Schools allow their early graduates to come back and participate in commencement ceremonies in May, which Miller and Navarro said they want to do.
Boyd was uncertain.
“I would love to come back and walk, but honestly, if I have a part by that time, I will have moved on.”