Monday, January 14, 2013

Investigating High Schools

I have an eighth grader. That means that we have been investigating high school options.

We are districted to Skyline High School, so that is our default option, and we will go to the curriculum night next week.

Meanwhile, my husband took my son to a Community High School orientation. It was "enthusiastic," "very crowded," and "excellent" according to them. Also, they said it didn't seem particularly "rehearsed" (which in their mind was a good thing). And depending on how many people apply, my son has somewhere between a 20% and 40% chance of getting in as a freshman. . . also, it's only available to Ann Arbor students. Three major attractions of the school: its small size; the amount of choice that students have in taking classes; and the Jazz Band and Dance Body programs (you can dual enroll for those, as well as other classes). Find out more here.

We decided to visit the Washtenaw International High School, which is a consortium program that lives at the former Ypsilanti East Middle School. [It's a consortium which excludes some of the west-side-of-the-county districts, but people in those districts can go by choosing to enroll as a school of choice student in a district like Ypsilanti. On a side note, Dexter is developing their own IB program.]  I expected not to like the school, but I was actually quite impressed. The International Baccalaureate program is very intensive and in contrast to Community High School there are not a lot of choices. Everybody takes four years of a language. Everybody takes two science classes their freshman year, and science every year. Everybody writes a 4,000 word paper. In tandem with the rigorous nature of the program, this is a school for kids who want to think, not do rote learning. There are lots of labs in the science program; much of the literature comes from other countries and cultures; lots of the work is project-based. Those of you who have been wishing for a "gifted and talented" program, I think this will fit the bill--look no further!  Plus, the IB credits are accepted in the same way as AP credits are at various colleges and can give your kids a leg up. On the down side, there are only IM sports; there is 2-3 hours of homework a night; and parents are responsible for transportation. On the up side, it appears that a student's chances of getting in this year are 100%. (They are not expecting to be overrun with applications--yet. The school will graduate its first class in two years. It's a small school. You can go, even if you are an out of county student. Find out more at

Today I saw an acquaintance who told me that she has recently switched her son from Lincoln High School, where she felt he was falling through the cracks, to the newly-opened Arbor Prep charter high school. I asked her how he liked it. She said that sometimes he feels it is not a "real" high school (by which he means that it is quite small) but his grades are much better and he is more engaged. They give every student a laptop and put their books/curriculum on the laptop. The school says they follow a "college prep" curriculum, and a requirement of graduation is that you be accepted into a four-year college. [Admittedly, I think that is not necessarily difficult--but what is nice about it, is that it is a requirement then that you *apply* to college.] Arbor Prep is near the corner of Hitchingham and Merritt Roads in Ypsilanti Township. Arbor Prep is run by PrepNet, which is linked with the National Heritage Academies, and is a for-profit charter company. Anyway, you know I'm not a big fan of for-profit charter companies, but my acquaintance is very happy with her decision to move her son. It's a small school and he is not "fading into the woodwork," in her eyes.

And it makes me wonder--is it really about the size of the school? The one thing these three schools have in common is their size, which will be in the 400-600 student range when they are fully-occupied.


  1. I'd bet that the size of the school has a lot to do with it. Isn't Skyline organized into smaller "learning communities" also? I never understand why people can complain about "factory schools" and then advocate for massive high schools with huge classes because they're cheaper.

  2. If small size is what you're looking for, Ypsi High School has shrunk to less than 600, Ypsi New Tech and Willow Run are each about 300.

    - YpsiAnon

  3. The report from my husband and son on Skyline curriculum night was a sound thumbs down. We are currently looking for alternatives if he does not get into Community. Apparently the powerpoint presentations were a good demonstration of bad teaching and bad presentation skills. I have since heard from other parents who actively do not want Skyline as an option for their kids--even with the magnets.

  4. I would definitely advocate for the Washtenaw International High School. Great school - it is new and that presents unique opportunities as well as very personal attention. It will be a smaller school even at full capacity, which many people are looking for. It is not in the same open format as community but offers a rigorous education for the students. One nice things is how connected the students homework assignments across the disciplines.