Onion: More 5th graders take gap year

“A growing number of American fifth-graders are opting to take a gap year to unwind from the stresses of elementary education and recharge themselves before taking on the rigors of middle school,” reports The Onion. “It may soon be the norm for kids to spend a year learning a specialized skill, such as getting really good at riding their bike with no hands or seeing how many Twizzlers they can fit in their mouth, rather than reflexively moving up to the next grade.”

Do kids need a ‘gap year’ before high school?

Some parents are giving their children an extra year in eighth grade to prepare for the rigors of high school, writes Jessica Lahey, a middle-school teacher, in The Atlantic.

The recent push for increased academic rigor also means kids need more well-developed executive-functioning skills, or the ability organize, plan, schedule, and self-regulate. These skills originate in the prefrontal cortex, one of the last areas of the brain to develop, and are vital to student success, particularly as students shift from the relatively low organizational demands of elementary school to the more complicated an onerous demands of middle school.

Sam Strohbehn’s mother, Judy, thought he wasn’t ready for high school in Hanover, NH. He agreed to spend a fourth year in middle school.

Sam is our youngest boy, and the youngest child in his grade. We knew what was coming academically and socially, and that to navigate high school, he needed some time to become a mature learner, to appreciate all that high school was going to offer. Sam had not yet developed strong organizational techniques, study skills, and time management tools. When his teachers weighed in, they stressed that he simply needed more time. We were told to consider a gap year after high school, but decided not to wait and give him that time now.

When Sam had “matured academically and socially” by the time he started high school, his mother writes.

Still, the “gift of time” is expensive for taxpayers, who have to pay for that extra year of schooling. Lahey thinks it makes more sense to put more time and effort into teaching students to organize, plan, schedule and self-regulate.

These are very useful skills in life, not just in high school.

Go surfing — then go to college

Instead of going to college next year, Deborah Dunham’s son plans to surf the world. Putting college on hold is the right decision for her son, who loves adventure but lacks education and career goals, Dunham writes in Forbes. College is too expensive to be just for “finding” yourself. Her son will go to college when he’s ready.

In the meantime, my husband and I agree that he should catch all the waves he can.

. . . even though Bradley is already working and saving up for his adventure (we will support his travels, but not fund them), he does still have his eyes on the future. In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about ways to marry his passions and talents—like photography and videography of surfing and travel—with a career.

In some countries, it’s not unusual to take a “gap year” between high school and college for work, travel, sports and adventure. But there’s a risk: Once off the college track, Bradley may never get on it. He could find himself as a beach bum — probably a happy one. Or he could show up at college in a few years knowing who he is and what he wants to learn.

Some aren’t ready for college at 18

Not every 18-year-old is ready for a four-year college, says Jeffrey Selingo, author of College (Un)Bound.  Many “end up in college because we have few maturing alternatives after high school, whether it’s national service, apprenticeships or structured ‘gap year’ experiences.” Well, we’ve got military service, work and community college.

The big mo

Momentum is the key to college completion: Slow starters usually don’t finish.  Taking a “gap year” between high school and college can be dangerous, especially for low-income students.

Disrupting college

Online learning is a disrupting innovation that will transform higher education, predicts the Innosight Institute.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Taking a “gap year” may be enriching for the affluent but lower-income students who delay college are much less likely to earn a degree.

Study: ‘Gap year’ motivates students

Australian students who take a “gap year” after high school are much more motivated in college, according to two studies in the Journal of Educational Psychology.  From Education Week:

University of Sydney researcher Andrew J. Martin . . . found that Australian students were more likely to take a gap year if they had low academic performance and motivation in high school. Yet former “gappers” reported significantly higher motivation in college — in the form of “adaptive behavior” such as planning, task management, and persistence — than did students who did not take a gap year.

While Europeans and Australians often take a gap year, only 7.6 percent of 2004 graduates in the U.S. delayed college entry for a year: 84 percent worked and 29 percent traveled or pursued other interests.

In the U.S., students who take a year off the academic track are less likely to complete a degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, co-authors of the 2005 book The Gap Year Advantage, are working on a new book tentatively titled The Gap Year, American Style, Ed Week reports.

. . . students reported their top-two reasons for taking a gap year were burnout and wanting to “find out more about themselves.” Moreover, nine out of 10 students returned to college within a year, and 60 percent reported the time off had either inspired or confirmed their choice of career or academic major.

Students who’ll be the first in their families to college are urged not to step off the academic track for fear they’ll never get back on. But the “gap year” is catching on with affluent parents who are confident their high-achieving children will earn a degree.

“We found we were counseling everybody to [go to] college, and we were finding a lot of these students were just not ready to go on,” said Linda Connelly, a counselor at New Trier High in suburban Chicago. “The parents wanted them out of the house, and we wanted to give students another option.” New Trier now holds a “gap” fair so students can learn about pre-college programs.

“Taking gap time can really save a lot of the floundering around that students do,” said Holly Bull, the president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Center for Interim Programs, which studies gap-year programs and counsels students on options. “Changing majors, changing schools … it gets very pricey to be confused in college.”

I think many students would benefit from a year to grow up, explore and clarify their goals. Those who go to college after a gap year may work harder and party less. But others will drift away from their college goals.

If the gap year catches on in the U.S., we’re likely to see more serious college students and fewer lemmings — those who go to college only because everybody else is doing it. That sounds like a good outcome, but it will undercut the president’s goal of making the U.S. first in the world in college degrees.

More ‘gappers’ postpone college

Postponing college for a “gap year” of service and travel is a growing trend, reports the Wall Street Journal. The story profiles Lillian Kivel, who deferred Harvard to intern at a global health nonprofit and serve as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse.

To fill her spring months, Ms. Kivel turned to gap-year consultant Holly Bull, president of Interim Programs, to help her sift through more than 100 different programs in China. Ms. Kivel will live with a host family in Shanghai, study Chinese language, history and culture in a classroom setting, and teach English to children. “I have gained so much by … becoming more responsible and independent [and] exploring my interests,” Ms. Kivel says.

Princeton plans to offer a gap year option to admitted students, who will be placed in an overseas service job.  Students will be eligible for financial aid to cover their costs.

Motivated students probably benefit from a year to work and explore; average students, who aren’t likely to be studying in Shanghai, may get off the academic track and never get back on.

Americorps offers a chance to work at low wages and earn college aid. However, as Donald Douglas writes, a year of foreign travel and resume-polishing service is a luxury that most young people can’t afford.  If they take a year between high school and college, they won’t hire a $2,000 “gap” consultant; they’ll get a “job.”