SIOUX CITY -- Some Northwest Iowa high school seniors leave before commencement because they didn't like school, are tired of what they described as a confining education experience, or don't mesh well with classmates.
Recognizing the value of a diploma, they don't drop out, but accumulate enough hours to graduate a semester early.
For some students, getting done with their classes and moving onto adult pursuits was a goal, whether that includes full-time work, joining the military or dealing with family responsibilities, including being pregnant, said Kim Lingenfelter, superintendent of the Cherokee School District.
Others decided to jump from high school early, in order to begin college classes, including some high-profile sports recruits to major universities.
The students in those scenarios chose the option of early graduation, and as the month of Siouxland high school commencements begins, some will take part in the school ceremonies and others won't.
A program-record six 2019 recruits who signed with the University of Iowa football team got a head start on their collegiate careers by enrolling for school in January. Among those six is Ezra Miller of Holstein, Iowa, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive lineman, who graduated early from Ridge View High School.
Miller, who was homecoming king two months prior, tweeted in November, "Graduated from high school, appreciate all the bowl game invites. But I'm just ready to sign, get to Iowa City and ball out!"
One of the biggest groups of early graduating students this year in Northwest Iowa came at Woodbury Central High School, where eight seniors wrapped up their coursework in the first semester. That means nearly one-sixth of the 2019 W-C graduating class, including Jacob Wohlert, made their way toward full-time jobs and other tasks.
Wohlert had been thinking of early graduation since his sophomore year. This week he said it was a good decision to carry that out, which over recent months has given him independence along with working a construction job, while living with his parents in Moville, Iowa.
"I get to do my own thing. Whatever I want to do that day, I go do," Wohlert said.
Iowa Department of Education has longstanding statistics on graduation rates and dropout numbers for the state's school districts. Department Communications Director Staci Hupp said the state agency does not compile totals on early graduations, so she could not speak about any possible trends with that practice.
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Aside from periodic one-year spikes in such schools as Woodbury Central, superintendents in Northwest Iowa, asked by the Journal to provide statistics over the last 10 years, said the number of early graduates typically have held steady for the last decade. Several districts did not reply with stats.
"I would not say it is a (growing) trend in Cherokee, as the percentage has been consistent in my four years as superintendent," Lingenfelter said. She cited seven early-graduation requests approved by the school board in November, while 64 others will graduate this month from Cherokee High School.
Kim Trepa, superintendent for West Monona School District, said early graduation is being taken in low numbers by seniors, as over the last 10 years, there were only three in each 2012-2013 and 2015-2016.
MOC-Floyd Valley High School Principal Mike Mulder said five students this year selected the early graduation route, which is 6 percent of the 2019 class.
"I do not feel that this has fluctuated much over the past 10 years," Mulder said.
He said many MOC-Floyd Valley students feel no compulsion to leave early, since Iowa students can also earn college credits by taking both levels of courses while in high school. Mulder said many like the ability to earn college credits while enjoying the social and extracurricular activities options in high school.
Wohlert will enter basic training for the military in July, and for now he does a lot of fishing around his work for a Kingsley construction business.
"It gives me a head start to begin saving for college," he said. "I thought I could go make some extra money for school."
Wohlert said there were also some experiences in school that made leaving early the right path: "I had conflicts with some of the teachers and classmates."
Nonetheless, he will take part in the May 19 Woodbury Central commencement.
"I am going back to the ceremony, to say good-bye one last time, and that will be that. I'll see them probably when we have our next reunion," Wohlert said.