“Some people [were] crying,” he recalled. And while the change motivated some students to speed up their path to graduation, he said, others didn’t want to come to school anymore.
While Dhungana was able to graduate before 21 and now attends St. Paul College, he has friends who aged out and went on to work jobs where proficient English and a high school diploma aren’t required.
Hall said the students who age out and get jobs are “lucky” compared to those who can’t get work at all because they don’t have basic language skills.
Some students who age out may go on to adult diploma programs or adult basic education, where they can continue English Language Learner classes and earn a GED.
But the GED, designed for students who’ve had a near-complete K-12 education, can be intimidating.
“Kids get really afraid because they haven’t had [classes in] government, they haven’t had biology,” said LEAP Principal Rose Santos.
Minneapolis’ Wellstone International High School, which serves a similar population as LEAP, sometimes keeps students past 21 if they’re close to graduating.
One recent student stayed until age 23, Principal Aimee Fearing said, but had arrived very late and was progressing quickly after taking summer school classes.
“If you are two credits short from graduation and we shut the door and say, ‘You can’t, now try out for your GED,’ to me that’s not what’s best for students and it’s not what’s best for our communities,'” she said.