New Senior High program recognizes students who take every tough class

2014-03-20T00:15:00Z 2014-03-20T15:40:06Z New Senior High program recognizes students who take every tough classBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

And then there were 16.

Senior High's new Platinum Program is about to graduate its first crop of finishers, and what started as a group of 53 freshman four years ago has whittled itself down to 16 seniors this month.

"It kind of takes a lot of discipline to follow through," said senior Ellen Carlson. 

"It's hard," said senior Rachael Eaton. 

To complete the program, students must take every Advanced Placement and honors class that Senior High offers. They write a rigorous research paper as juniors and then complete a final project, called a magnum opus, their senior year. 

The roster of classes include brain-bruisers like AP U.S. history and government, AP calculus, honors English and honors algebra 3. 

"That's probably the toughest course offered in this building," said Principal Dennis Holmes. 

Many of the honors and AP classes require that students take prerequisites, meaning their electives as underclassmen had to be classes to set them up for the honors and AP courses they'd take as juniors and seniors. 

Three periods of gym or the odd shop or art class simply wasn't an option. All 16 students had classes they wanted to take but couldn't in order to complete the program. 

"It was worth it," Eaton said. "You sacrifice a lot doing it ... but it pays off in the end." 

The idea behind the Platinum Program is to give Senior High graduates a way to distinguish themselves among their peers nationally. Many high schools across the country have begun using weighted GPAs, meaning students can graduate with a 4.5 or 5.0 if they take a course that's rated more difficult than typical high school fare.

In Billings — and most Montana high schools — a student with perfect grades graduates with a 4.0.  

"Our students gotta have something else," Holmes said. With the Platinum Program "it's the rigor (that) you can put on a transcript." 

And colleges have noticed. Carlson said as she's applied to different schools and interviewed with different colleges, many have asked what the Platinum Program is, impressed with its goals. 

But it's been rigorous. Most of the students who are completing the program this semester have played varsity sports and been deeply involved with the community on top of taking all of Senior's hardest classes. 

They've also planned and executed their magnum opus projects. Eaton, for example, organized a fun run last October to support a charity started by her cousin Ryan Eaton, who died of cancer last year. The race had roughly 800 participants. 

Through the process, the Platinum students have learned the importance — and the difficulty — of time management. They've had to be strictly on task for four years. 

It was a weighty decision to make as freshman. 

"I figured I might as well challenge myself as much as I could," said Jorey Egeland. 

He knew it would leave him better prepared for college. 

Wade Cicierski said, in a sense, it wasn't much of a decision at all. 

"I figured I'd be taking honors classes anyway," he said. "What's one extra project?"

But through the process they discovered things about themselves. Egeland, who has long wanted to be a doctor, had that desire reinforced as he worked through the rigorous courses. 

Eaton, through doing her magnum opus, discovered she wants to run a nonprofit. Cicierski wants a law degree and by doing well in AP government, he discovered that's attainable. 

Carlson knew she was going to take a full load of honors classes once she got to high school anyway.

"But the classes that I took helped me determine what my interests were," she said.

She also plans on chasing a law degree.

Holmes is pleased with his first group of Platinum graduates. And he praised all 53 who signed up four years ago. 

"They were bold enough to sign their name" to the program, he said. 

He's also proud of the staff at the school for embracing a project that ultimately will help students succeed post-high school. 

"This is Senior High," he said. 

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