Alternatives to Attending High School

Parent Q&A

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  • My 13-year old 8th grader is on the immature side.  Physically, he is quite small for his age and has not yet hit puberty.  He is often mistaken for a  10 year-old.  His executive functioning skills are lagging a bit and his social skills are, in many ways, not at grade level.  He does well in school and functions at a high level academically, but requires some accommodations because of a learning difference and is very uneven in his skills.  His birthday puts him on the younger side of the kids in his grade.  He is good natured and gentle and has not been in any kind of trouble.  He wants to attend the local public high school next year and I'm having trouble imagining it.

    Is there any program in the East Bay that helps families create an extra year in between middle school and high school?  I think he could really benefit from an extra year to develop before tackling high school.  It is not feasible for us to homeschool him (and he would hate it) and we cannot do anything extreme next year like spend the year abroad.  

    I sent my son to Tilden prep to take a few classes between middle and high school because he was young and had some adhd-related challenges. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but I’m so glad he waited a year to start high school. 

    Many file the private school affidavit in California to homeschool (go to for more info), and as a private school, you set the curriculum and expectations for any student in your school. By filing the PSA for your "gap year", this gives you the freedom to have your son take a year off from public school and in the meantime he can work on projects, work at a job, volunteer, take a college course under dual enrollment, or whatever you deem is appropriate for him to be doing and learning in that year, etc. So, technically you are homeschooling but you don't have to do 'school at home' during that time. Also, if you've never tried homeschooling, I'm not sure how he knows he'd hate something he's never done! What I've described above is what a lot of kids do for homeschool and they are going to college in droves. This isn't your grandma's homeschooling, the kids aren't only sitting at a kitchen table, shut away from the world, reading a bible. Look into unschooling as well, and call the HSC phone line at 888-HSC-4440 for more information about what homeschooling can be like and do for your kiddo. It's pretty amazing. Feel free to contact me personally for more information on how to do this. 

    You didn't mention what type of school your son attends.  A friend of mine had a similar situation with her son, although they are located in Silicon Valley.  He had attended a small private elementary/middle school.  He repeated 8th grade at the public middle school as a transition year before entering the public high school.  This was very successful for him.  The boy is now a junior in high school, we'll adjusted with friends, doing well academically, and participating in sports.

  • My nephew, who lives in Colorado, refuses to go to school.  His parents are divorced and there is a lot of "it's not my problem anymore, and I can't do anything about it" going on.   Family dynamics aside, I am trying to find some options for him.  He's a bright kid, who says he was just bored in school.  He would rather enter some type of trade or art school.  He enjoys computer programming, and graphic arts.  We are not against even moving him out here to give him some options.  Has anyone been down this road?  Options?  Advice?  Thoughts?  Support.

    Traditional high school didn't work for my son either; he claimed that while he loved to learn, he found the routine tedious and boring. He transferred to Berkeley High's independent study program (requires interview to meet eligibility) and it worked well for him. Students meet with their teachers only once or twice weekly to review work they've completed and to receive follow up assignments. Science and math courses, however, must be done with teachers on campus. Also, your nephew might pursue a GED at an adult school or online. Check out community colleges too. I believe he will need a high school diploma regardless of which path he follows.  Perhaps you could find out if his local Colorado high school has a similar independent program. Many kids thrive in smaller settings with more freedom to make their own decisions.  If you research the private school route, there probably are options, but they will all be very pricey. The fact that your nephew enjoys programming and graphic arts is fantastic, since there are professions/jobs that combine both of those skills.  I completely understand the urgency of wanting your teen to develop and thrive!  Best to you and your nephew.

    Check out

    Sounds just like my daughter. Identical situation.  After having done a ton of research about options that she might accept, I recommend that he be offered the chance to go to Community college here and take whatever classes he wants. I believe that you can register him for Berkeley High and that they will pay his community college tuition. Talk to a counselor there.  Also, a thought: You may want to make this offer to him with some conditions such as he must be doing something productive (community college, structured exercise, or working for example) for at least 6 hours/ day if he is to stay with you. Best of luck.

    Maybe your nephew just needs a change of scenery. Maybe he is in a difficult social situation at his current school. You could do a trial where he stays with you for 3 months and then you re-evaluate the situation.  You didn't say which city you live in but he might find a public high school like Berkeley High more acceptable than his school in Colorado.  Many school districts including Berkeley have independent study programs.  That might work for him too. In California he can take the high school equivalency exam until he is 18, which gives him a high school degree. After 18 it's the GED which can be more difficult. He can also take classes at a community college which gives him a pathway to a 4 year college.  Good luck and good for you for looking out for your nephew.

    You may want to see if there is a Sudbury School or Free School in his area.

    If he is a bright kid -- have him enroll in community college classes in his area of interest.  he may just thrive in an environment made for adults making their own decisions about learning rather than high school where he has no control.

Archived Q&A and Reviews



High School Completion with AA degree

August 2009

Hi, My older sister is thinking of sending her son to United States without finishing high school. I heard that some community colleges in Seattle (Green River, Shoreline) offer a high school diploma combined with an AA degree program for foreign students. Has anyone heard about such program in California? Do you know if the high school diploma is legitimate since there is actually no physical high school - just the community college? I really appreciate any advice.

This is very common, it is called Middle College and several Bay Area school districts offer such programs as an alternative to traditional high school. Check with the school district (not the college, it is a high school program during which the student earns college credit) where your nephew will live. -- public school mom

I had a friend whose son completed high school at DVC. He was not a foreign student, but I'd start there. Laura


Alternative to high school needed for smart, bored daughter

October 2005


Hi, our almost 16 year old is bascially bored beyond tears at her high school. She plays basketball, sings in the advanced a capella choir, so she is involved but academically she is just not interested in trying. She has an extrememly high IQ. She is tall, thin, and a lovely young woman and has a lot of trouble with girls not liking her (I understand that this issue will not go away but it takes over her day)

I am thinking of offering her the option to take the GED and start some classes at the JC. She already passed the California exit exam last year in the 95th percentile.

I would like to hear from other parents whose kids have taken this route. She kind of feels like the GED is copping out yet she says that she is ready to actually learn something.

Thanks for any input. And it looks to me like high school is not for girls either. Those of us who have high expectations for our daughters to be leaders, achievers and engaged are just as disappointed and discouraged.

high school is not for most

I had similar experiences with my daughter and the high school academics and social scenes. In California you can not get a GED until you are 18. You can however get a CHSPE issued by the State School Board. Your daughter may find that Junior College is no more academically satisfying than high school. My daughter attended Maybeck High briefly, and enjoyed the teachers and the courses offered. You might want to explore that possibility. My experience is that it is very difficult being quite young and very intelligent. It is a real challenge finding a place which is comfortable and challenging enough to be interesting. I wish you and your daughter the best of luck!
another mother

You should perhaps consider other options alongside a JC for your gifted daughter. It sounds as if she belongs in an environment better suited to high-potential students. This fall, I had a 16-year-old student in my class at Mills College. She had felt inadequately challenged in high school, and so did her junior and senior years' coursework in one year, allowing her to begin college before her 17th birthday. She is now an excellent student and despite being young, has already made plenty of friends and organized a student club.

Whatever one thinks about high schools, women's colleges plainly are for girls (as well as women of all ages)! If she earns her GED, she might also consider Mills . An alternative that wouldn't require the GED is Simon's Rock College of Bard, which allows early college entry to gifted students: .

Given her youth, there might be added benefit to choosing a college with smaller classes and a faculty that has the time and inclination to work closely with individual students.
Professor (and mother) to gifted girls

There IS a public high school alternative in Berkeley: Berkeley Independent Study. It's a K-12 program in which students meet once per week with each teacher, some classes meet one-on-one and many meet in small seminars (2-8 students). It is a small community with a wide range of students. I teach in the K-8 program and have a lot of contact with the high school students. I can report that the students feel very good about completing high school in our program. Students can take concurrent classes at the JC. I'd be happy to talk with you or you can call the B.I.S. office at 644-8592, 2701 MLK Jr Way, Room 200. B.I.S. is at the opposite end of the Berkeley Alternative High campus. Kamala Asher

There are resources in various postings at Granted, we were focusing on boys, but all of the resources we identified are for girls too. Most of us in the (short-lived) group would agree with you that the high schools available aren't for many kids. The boys/men we were discussing are in alternative high schools or left high school early, and most are doing much better as a result. Good luck to you! been there... twice

In response to high school is not for most, who asked (10/14 newsletter) for advice about her teen daughter taking the GED: You daughter isn't eligible to take the GED until she is 18. If she is 16 OR has completed (or will complete) 10th grade, she can take the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), which in many respects is the functional equivalent of the GED. Community Colleges will accept it as the equivalent of a high school diploma, so your daughter would be able to enroll there.

The CHSPE will not substitute for any course requirements for admission to 4 year colleges -- its very important that you talk with an admissions officer at any colleges you are considering to find out if they accept the CHSPE at all, and if so, what your daughter needs to do regarding required prerequisites.

The California High School Exit Exam is a requirement for graduation, but it is not the same thing as the CHSPE.

The next test date is in March 2006.

More info is available at Jeff

There are posts in the same newsletter that seem relevant to your concern about your bright 18 year old who would like to leave HS, so I don't want to duplicate. One of our sons entered UCLA at 16, and we know many other kids who left high school early via CHSPE or GED and entered college. Most were much better off for moving on, but I'm not convinced that it was because they were 'bright but bored' necessarily, but, rather, they were struggling with too many issues and needed to move on somehow someway somewhere. Growing up is just challenging - kids with and without academic talent have difficult times in high school and need to move on. Anyway, check out some of the other resources mentioned in the newsletter - internships, community college, etc. Consider also talking with a college counselor to see if your son has taken enough courses to enter a UC or CSU; in our case, Rory Bled was our savior. If your son doesn't have sufficient units, you may find an alternative college that won't care. Our son was way too young to go to college at 16 (he figured that out in hindsight), but was dropping out of HS with absolutely no plan whatsoever, and he was able to sort himself out and graduate in 5 1/2 years, about the time he would have anyway.
a parent who has been there!


Job Corps as alternative to high school for 16-year-old?

July 2004


Has anyone had any experience with Job Corps? We're moving back to the east bay, but I'm uneasy about the high schools here. We really can't afford private school. Our son, soon to be 16, had LD/ADHD and doesn't really care for school. He'd prefer to learn and trade and get a job. Job Corps seems to have a High School Diploma Program, they teach Driver's Ed, and have career programs. Anyone have any comments on the program? Tunisha

I work for the U.S. Department of Labor which funds and oversees the Job Corps program. Job Corps provides training and education to youth age 16-24, mostly in residential (i.e. dorms on campus) settings (the nearest program, at Treasure Island, has many kids who commute to the program every day, however, so that would be possible). The program is terrific for a lot of kids who might not otherwise complete high school for a number of reasons. Most of the kids are low-income, many come from situations where there was not the traditional family support that many students need to be successful. That does mean that some of the kids come with significant 'baggage'. However, the program is designed to give kids a lot of support, counseling and structure, as well as training and education that will help them develop as a whole person and be ready for the workforce, or college, when they graduate. Job Corps works to help kids complete a HS diploma or GED, and provides specific skill training in certain jobs or to continue to a regular community or 4-year college program. At Treasure Island, they have a terrific culinary arts program - both a basic and an advanced program for students around the country who have excelled in the basic program. They also have training programs in computer networking, carpentry and masonry, and about a dozen other fields.

I recommend you visit the web site:, or give them a call at 1-800-733-JOBS (1-800-733-5627)

You are also welcome to call me and I can help put you in touch with Job Corps staff locally who can answer more of your concerns for your own child.


Also recommended: Oasis High School charter public school in Oakland