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Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.


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Making the grade . . . above

Sure, skipping a grade gets you out of school faster, but students point out some drawbacks.

By AUTUMN SIEGEL, Times X-Team
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 3, 2002


"K through 12 can be an eternity. For most people, that's 13 years -- for some, a bit shorter . . ."

So wrote Crystal River High School senior Garrett Sanford in a proposed graduation speech. At Crystal River, there is no ranking system, so any of the honors students may enter a speech to be considered for the graduation ceremony.

Garrett's words weren't selected, but he would not have been able even to submit a speech for graduation in 2002 if he hadn't taken a fast route through school. He has skipped two grades, seventh and 11th.

Educators have strong opinions on both sides about skipping grades, considering the individual student's developmental and emotional maturity the most important factors. With this year's graduation season in full swing, we talked about the pros and cons of skipping grades with students who are moving through school faster than most of their peers.

Garrett, 16, admits he never has been exactly like other kids.

"I've always been about pushing myself, about what I can do," Garrett said.

"The first (time) I'm 100 percent proud I skipped. The second one, I'm not always so sure about. But it gives me just a little edge, puts me just a little ahead," he said.

"But I didn't skip them straight up. I did nine weeks completely of seventh grade, then switched to mostly eighth grade classes. That one was pretty easy."

Garrett, who started this past school year as a junior, made the transition to senior status after going through his planner and looking over his credits. From there, having the required courses under his belt, it was a matter of getting the approval of the school counselor and the Citrus County School Board.

The process was not easy and took a couple months. But his request was approved, making Garrett eligible for scholarships, senior pictures and graduation in 2002. Luckily, he said, he managed to go the whole year without "senioritis."

Garrett, who attended his commencement ceremony May 23, said one downside was scholarship application forms. Some don't allow additional sheets of paper to be attached, so it was difficult not only to explain his date of birth but also the number of classes and his GPA. The Florida block system allows high schoolers to take 32 credits over the course of four years but only 24 are required for a Florida diploma. Those extra electives can have an affect on one's GPA. Nonetheless, Garrett was accepted by the University of Florida, where he will attend in the fall.

In middle school, Garrett made a $40 bet with his friend, Talon Herdison, to see who would graduate earlier. Originally, it had been obvious that Talon would be first because he was two grades ahead of Garrett. Garrett remembers being razzed after making his first jump in seventh grade, but this year both were seniors.

"Well, he thought he still had me covered because obviously Herdison comes before Sanford" alphabetically. He didn't realize that the summa cum laude graduates got their diplomas first, said Garrett.

Other skippers take different paths. Stacey Lowe was placed in 10th grade instead of ninth when she came to America last year because of the equivalent knowledge attained in England. Now a junior at Lecanto High School, she said she is having few problems and that few people know about the skip. She is a track star who wants to pursue a career in sports management.

David Bowman, also a junior at Lecanto, says most of his friends know about his skip. He turned 16 on May 10, a fact he finds aggravating. "All the sophomores are getting their licenses, but they can't get a (school) parking permit. I can get the parking permit, but I can't drive!"

He says another social pressure is in relationships. "It kind of hurts my chances of dating people in my grade. They find out (my age) and they're all like, "whoa!' That really . . . makes things complicated," David said.

"It's difficult because you're younger than everyone, but it's also kind of nice because you're smart."

Dan Munsell, a 15-year-old old sophomore who moved into first grade in the middle of his kindergarten year, says he really hasn't had too many problems with skipping a grade. "The biggest one with me is with sports. It makes it harder because you're never going to have your best chance of competing," he said. "You're smaller than everybody else."

Would he encourage other eligible students to make the jump?

"In elementary school, they can make the skip at a young age, but I don't recommend it past then. I had time to adjust."

Tiana Miele turned 6 the end of March, but she hopes to go into second grade next year. At the small Montessori school she attended this year, she was handling third-grade level concepts, her parents said. Julie and Lou Miele want to start their daughter in second grade at the public Forest Ridge Elementary School next year and are talking with school administrators for approval.

"She has no problem keeping up with children that are a little bit older," Julie Miele said. "I just think that she needs to be around more kids" than there are her present school.

Autumn Siegel, who is homeschooled in Beverly Hills through the Florida Virtual School, will be a sophomore in the fall.

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