Blue Earth Area gets jump on day

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth Area High School has implemented changes recently in three areas: prom, graduation and start time.

Starting time for the high school has been moved up five minutes to 8:20 a.m., said Principal Rich Schneider.

The change stemmed from tranportation issues.

“The elementary and middle school get out about 10 minutes before we do,” Schneider said. “It takes longer to load elementary students so they get on the bus first.”

Then the bus comes to the high school.

“Our building had the shortest day,” Schneider said, but “state law required the most minutes for grades 7-12.”

The law says kindergarteners in half-day classes must attend 425 hours; kindergarteners in all-day class are required to attend for 850 hours. Grades 1-6 need 935 hours and grades 7-12 are required to put in 1,020 hours.

The additional five minutes might not sound like much, but it does add up, Schneider said. With all the bad weather this winter, Blue Earth Area had started school late or cancelled it frequently, and this was cutting into classroom time.

“That five minutes spread over the remainder of the [school] year will get us approximately seven hours of instruction, which is basically one school day,” Schneider said.

The change will continue next fall.

“No reason to have the day shorter if the students are here,” Schneider said. “We might as well take advantage of it.”

Prom and graduation are two important milestones that teens will remember all their lives. Blue Earth Area has made some changes in those areas as well.

In the past, students could bring whomever they wanted to prom, no matter what age, but now there will be a cap on the age of the date.

“People over 21 will not be permitted to attend as a guest,” Schneider said. “All out-of-town guests will sign a permission slip with a photo ID.”

Guests must provide a copy of their driver’s license with the permission form. If a guest is from another high school, they must have their principal sign the form.

“That’s very common; I have to sign several each spring,” Schneider said.

In fact, it was while checking with other schools in the South Central Conference that he was made aware that Blue Earth Area was the only school that did not have the age limit for prom.

“Quite honestly, that’s the legal drinking age,” Schneider said of the reason for the limit. “Less influence, less possibility for negative peer pressure.”

Blue Earth Area hosts several foreign exchange students each year and “getting to walk” for graduation is a highlight of their experience. This year, nine students will still walk – they just won’t walk with the graduates.

“They have never graduated, but they got to participate in the ceremony,” Schneider said. “They have always walked with the other kids.”

But that created a two-fold problem: The foreign exchange students have always been classified as juniors and don’t have the credits to graduate.

“Part of the reason [they are juniors] is if I classify them as seniors, it hurts our graduation rate,” Schneider said. “It affects our four-year graduate rate. This year, it affected it by about 10 percent.

“We have a policy that a student must be within a credit of graduating to participate [in the ceremony],” Schneider said. “A foreign exchange student would never qualify for commencement or graduation.”

Conversely, regular students who don’t have the required credits are not not allowed to participate.

“You understand the lack of consistency,” Schneider said.

School officials considered the situation last spring and re-wrote the policy to exclude foreign exchange students from walking at graduation. The foreign exchange students were informed of the new policy when they registered and some weren’t happy about it.

“(Superintendent Evan) Gough and I met and talked about it and met our foreign exchange students and proposed the change to them,” Schneider said.

“I’ll recognize them before I recognize the graduates,” Schneider said.

The foreign exchange students will receive a certificate of participation and get to wear a cap and gown, but wearing the tassel will be reserved for those getting diplomas.

“When you move the tassel, you’ve graduated,” Schneider said.