Washburn 15-year-old graduates from high school in 1 year

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Motivated 15-year-old Washburn native finished high school in just one year by taking an online accredited program at her own pace. Contributed photo

Aldridge: 'It was my decision'

Motivated 15-year-old Bailee Aldridge of Washburn is not the ordinary high school student.

In fact, she's no longer in high school -- she already graduated.

What takes most students four years to complete, Aldridge did in one year. The last year she attended public school was in eighth grade at Southwest schools.

"It was my decision," Aldridge said. "Three days before my freshman year was about to start, I went to my mom and said, I don't want to do the public school thing anymore because I had gotten really involved with my church and youth group and felt like I couldn't do that with so many negative influences at school and not many Christians to hang out and fellowship with. And that's a major part of going deeper into your faith, who you surround yourself with."

How did she do it?

"I went through an accredited online school at my own pace," Aldridge said. "I had to go to the public school to sign papers saying I was being pulled out and homeschooling, and the counselor told us about three programs. One of them we couldn't find online, another was really expensive, and then we saw Penn Foster. It was perfect because I got my diploma at the end, it was affordable and sounded like something I could do because it was all online and I didn't have to worry about going through the mail."

Her mother was supportive of the decision.

"She said, OK, whatever makes you happy," Aldridge said. "The way it was set up, I had all the classes I had to take from my freshman to senior year. Basically, I just went at my own pace, which was kind of fast, and once I got a class started, I wasn't having to wait around to start a new one because it was just there."

Aldridge admits she's not the typical student.

"I'm different when it comes to school," Aldridge said. "I never asked the teachers for help. I'm kind of my own teacher. I taught myself. I had all the materials, so I studied it and got to understand it. When it came to English, I can't stand it. It's not my strong point, but my mom excelled in English and she helped me out a little bit.

"[Penn Foster] does offer online teachers, and you can call them when you have a question. At the end of all my core classes, I got to pick five electives, and three were about math. I love math."

At 15, her entire life is ahead of her, along with a plethora of career options, but Aldridge is going to continue working at her own pace and keep her options open.

Right now, she is attending Crowder College because all the four-year colleges she wanted to attend will not accept her until she's 17 -- which will not be until May of 2017.

"It really upset me because I did not want to do a community college, but then I was talking to everyone and just to go straight from homeschooling to a university would be a really big change," she said. "So, honestly, this is probably the best decision I could have made. I love it so much."

Aldridge said she likes being in a classroom setting again.

"It was an environment change, but not that much because yes, there are teachers there to talk to you during the class, but the work you do is still independent," she said. "I missed that because I love school, so being in a classroom makes it even better. I'm hoping to have my associates in general studies. I think at the rate I'm going now, I should be ready."

After obtaining her associates degree, she's considering attending College of the Ozarks.

"It's like a little community," she said. "I love it so much."

How far she decides to go in her education depends, Aldridge said, but her motivation sets her apart from her peers.

"Really, it depends on your drive, so I might just get the highest education I can get," she said.

Aldridge does not feel like she's missed out on anything, including hanging out with friends and attending school clubs and activities, because those things have still been available to her.

"My friends were really supportive," Aldridge said. "They were kind of sad I wouldn't be there at school, but even now, I still see them whenever I can. I was always in band in public school, so I asked Mrs. Watson, the high school principal, if I could still continue to do band. So, I was doing that for awhile, whenever I had free time. Like every Friday, I'd get there in the morning around 8 a.m. and sit in the cafeteria to do my Penn Foster homework until it was time for band.

"I played sports since I was little and my eighth-grade year was doing volleyball. After several practices, I ruptured a disc in my back so I couldn't do sports anymore, so I didn't miss out on all that. But if there was something going on, all my friends would invite me."

Aldridge said it feels strange sometimes that she's not yet legally old enough to drive, or work, yet is finished with high school, a chapter in her life that for her peers, is just beginning.

"It's so odd because I'm not old enough to have my license," she said. "My mom gets a lunch break at noon so on Wednesday when I'm done at college, she'll drive me to Roaring River Health and Rehab Center and I'll volunteer up there, or I'll go to the library. The library is my favorite place to be. I work with the event coordinator and we do fun activities for the elders that live [at Roaring River Health and Rehab]."

Aldridge is not sure what the future holds or the exact path she will take, but is motivated for whatever lies ahead.

"Honestly, I have no idea what I want to do," she said. "Ever since I was little-bitty, it was always something in the medical field. At College of the Ozarks, I'm going to major in business and maybe minor in something I like, like graphic design. From there, I'll maybe go to a university and figure out what I want to do."

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