It doesn’t take much to get a high school diploma from Beach High School in Soquel. Wes Beach, a former public high school teacher, requires only an essay, a letter of support from an adult and $240. Is he running a diploma mill? Or giving bored teen-agers a chance to move on to community college or a job? The answer isn’t obvious.
Beach’s son started taking college classes when he was 10 and earned a bachelor’s degree by the age of 17. The father started with programs for gifted youth, but soon branched out. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports:
The criticism mounted after he left Soquel High in 1993 to focus on Beach High — a one-room green shed, overflowing with books, next to the proprietor’s rural Soquel home.
Beach — who earns $20,000 to $30,000 a year and depends on his second wife, De Anza College English instructor Judy Hubbard, to be the chief provider — says he is offering students who have struggled in traditional school settings with an opportunity to pursue a more productive path.
But critics say there are better alternatives for nontraditional students: charter schools, continuation schools for at-risk youth and other programs that offer more reputable diplomas than Beach High.
Many districts offer “Middle College,” a program that lets high-school-age students earn credits at a local community college; it can work well for motivated, self-disciplined students. But most alternative programs have very low graduation rates.
Beach says employers who bother to read his transcripts will learn what a student has and hasn’t studied.
But his larger response to critics is philosophical.
“There are dancers, there are musicians, there are plumbers, there are carpenters,” he said. “They don’t need to study trigonometry.”
Beach “grads” have no trouble going on to community colleges, which are open to everyone with a pulse. Employers can’t tell Beach High isn’t a traditional school unless they look at a transcript; most employers don’t bother. But the Army and Air Force no longer take Beach grads.
On Daryl Cobranchi’s site, commenter Laura Derrick says Beach has worked with the Homeschool Association of California on creating transcripts for home-schooled students and getting into college with a non-traditional education.
Some of the (Beach High) diplomas he awards are to kids who have done a pretty traditional curriculum. Others are very non-traditional, and their transcripts reflect that. Here’s a paragraph that he includes on his non-traditional transcripts:
“Beach High School exists to support students who want to gain an education outside of a traditional high school setting. We award diplomas to students who convincingly present themselves as ready and able to move on beyond high school and who have established a direction for the next part of their lives. Our experience over many years has taught us that people succeed in wonderful ways, including through academic work in college, whenever they make deliberate, informed, and deeply personal decisions to move on. Our students have accomplished a great deal in practical crafts, the arts, business, and the professions, and they often reach the highest levels of formal education. It is their recognition of their genuine interests and talents and their confidence and wholeness that carry them where they want to go.”
Many students leave high school at 18 with a traditional diploma and very meager academic skills. But I don’t think a high school diploma should mean merely that the student is sick of high school and eager to try something else. Middle College provides some structure and access to academic classes while letting students be independent learners in an adult setting.