Margaret Wimborne, director of communications and community enforcement, Idaho Falls School District 91

There are few things more exciting than listening to a child’s dreams. She may want to be an engineer with designs on building better roads or creating more efficient cars. He may be driven by science with hopes of curing disease or cleaning up oceans. She may be thinking about a future as a police officer, a nurse or a firefighter where she can save lives.

Making those dreams come true won’t be easy, but parents can help their children by ensuring they have the educational foundation they will need to be successful, and making sure they take advantage of every program they can in high school.

“There are so many more opportunities available now than when parents where young,” said Sarah Sanders, director of secondary education for Idaho Falls School District 91.

High school students still have the chance to explore traditional interests and passions, but they have plenty of chances to earn college credit. If they enroll in one of the district’s many College Technical Education programs, for example, they can earn college credit and the certifications needed to land a good job as a certified nursing assistant or pharmacy tech straight out of high school.

With Idaho’s new advanced opportunities program, every student in grades 8-12 enrolled in one of Idaho’s schools receives $4,125 to pay for college credits, Advanced Placement tests or certification exams (learn more at ifschools.org). The middle school and high school registration process gets underway in District 91 in February, and it’s a wonderful time to talk to your child about his or her interests, and what they want to do after high school. If his sights are set on being an engineer, he may want to consider the pre-engineering program at Skyline High School. If she’s an entrepreneur, Skyline’s Academy of Finance or Compass Academy’s High School of Business might be a good fit. If it’s auto mechanics that sparks his interest, Idaho Falls High School has an auto program.

No matter their plans post graduation, parents should make sure they’re familiar with the district’s graduation requirements to ensure their children are taking all the classes they need to stay on track. They should also review their child’s four-year plan and help them design their 9th and 10th grade years, so they have the flexibility to take advantage of a myriad of special opportunities as juniors and seniors. If they have already chosen a specialty, make sure they check on pre-requisites.

Parents should also encourage rigorous classes, where students can sometimes earn college credit. “Take a risk and find something your child may have an aptitude for and encourage him or her to take a challenging path,” Sanders said.
In District 91’s high schools, the two most common routes to earning college credit are taking dual enrollment classes or AP classes.

With AP classes, students complete a rigorous course and then take a national exam. If they receive a high enough score on that exam, usually a 4 or 5, they will receive credit toward the college the chose.

In dual-enrollment classes, students take a high school course taught by a teacher who also is certified by a college or university. If they want to earn college credit, the teacher will help them register for that class with the college or university. When they complete the class, students receive a high school grade, a college grade and college credit. Any dual enrollment credits a student earns will appear on their college transcript, and any school that a student applies to will generally request those transcripts, so students need to take those classes seriously.

The key for parents during this process is to stay engaged and encourage their children to dream big. “Allow your child to grow academically, socially and emotionally by being a good listener, an encourager and a guide when they need one,” Sanders said.