Jeff Marshman, 17, wasn't ready to tackle university just yet. The bright Toronto student had already skipped Grade 8, so he was in no rush to embark on a demanding university schedule. Instead, he opted to stay at The Dragon Academy for another year.
He expects the extra courses he picked up will give him a broader knowledge base and a distinct advantage over the average freshman. He feels better able to understand theories, and says he's been "learning how to learn."
Dr. John Vervaeke, academic chairperson at The Dragon Academy, says three to five students a year take advantage of the school's post-graduate program. They earn up to 10 extra credits, with emphasis on subjects such as English literature, philosophy, civics and careers.
The Dragon Academy's Socratic approach to education lends itself perfectly to this type of program. Vervaeke says students are encouraged to make decisions about their own maturity level, to reflect on their experiences and to evaluate their own abilities. As well, with the number of courses available in some schools, students can take on subjects of interest that they had no chance to take in the previous four years. Others simply may wish to improve their grades.
Some students are collecting more than credits in preparation for university; they are seeking once-in-a-lifetime experiences to round out their high school careers. Several Canadian private and independent schools belong to Round Square, an international organization that creates many types of international student exchange programs, including a one-year post-graduate option.
"Students can broaden their experience and their knowledge, solidify what they have learned," says Illoma Carr, counsellor and Round Square co-ordinator at Bishop's College School in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
Graduates are able to spend one school year living abroad. They work in a local school, coaching a team or being involved in community service projects. Carr says the number of students who take advantage of this opportunity varies each year, from a whopping one-third of graduates in 1999 to just one last year, who headed off to Australia to teach at a local grammar school. Since the exchange is reciprocal, a South African student spent the school year helping out at Bishop's.
Neuchatel Junior College, a Canadian high school located in the Swiss town for which it is named, attracts many graduates to its unique program. In fact, the school only accepts students in either their final year of high school or for a post-graduate "enrichment" year. "Those who attend for a post-grad year have the benefit of this maturing year to broaden their academic base and best prepare for the challenges of university," says Dayle Leishman, director of Canadian Operations. "They return home more mature, more independent, with a different perspective on the world."
Katherine Warren, 19, says she was prepared to go to university, but wanted to take advantage of all she could "fit into the year between high school and university." That was a lot. Warren attended regular academic classes, traveled on school trips to destinations including Paris, Brussels, Russia, Greece and Turkey and independent trips to Barcelona, Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague and Berlin.
"The independent travel trips were amazing," she says. "We planned every detail of our trips from transportation to accommodation, from tours to meals. I got to see the world with small groups of my closest friends. It was incredible.'