I’ve always struggled with the idea of victory lapping in Ontario high schools. As someone who returned to high school to finish his final year in his early 20s, I understand the need. Had I not been able to do that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now and paying the taxes that I am. I can see the value in a victory lap, but I did it with purpose, doing a full semester of school while also working a forty hour week. For those victory lappers I see returning with that kind of intent, I have nothing but patience.
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Unfortunately, this past year I saw a number of victory lappers who didn’t apply themselves in school and then did the same again on their victory lap, at great expense to the system. If it’s to get credits needed to graduate or get into a particularly difficult post-secondary program and the graduate is attacking the opportunity like it matters, then it’s obviously a good thing, but if it’s for familiarity’s sake, as has been the case this year, then I have to wonder why anyone would want to chuck their final year of income (which is usually your best one) down the toilet so they can hang out in high school for an extra year.
Just think about that for a sec. You’re not giving up your first year of income when you victory lap, you’re giving up your last. Students (and parents) often misunderstand this fact. You’ll always start off at the lower end of the pay scale, but where you finish when you retire is what you’re cutting a year from because you’re starting late. Victory lapping isn’t just expensive to the system, it’s astonishingly expensive to the student, but in a world of helicopter parents and childhoods designed to protect children from the results of poor decision making, we continue to produce graduates who want to stay in the safe, no deadline, guaranteed success of high school.
In addition to this costing each victory lapping student tens of thousands of dollars, it’s also costing the system millions. Victory lapping isn’t a very efficient way of resolving graduates, but we do tens of thousands of times a year in Ontario.
The other night I was at our graduation where I saw all sorts of students graduating who are returning next year. If they’re graduating then it means they’ve already gotten the credits they need to move on, so why stay? Some will argue that they’re staying to raise their grades. Was it worth tens of thousands of dollars to screw around in your grade 12 year instead of buckling down and getting it done? Some are staying because they simply can’t think of what to do next and couldn’t be bothered to make plans because the system is waiting to look after them yet again. Those students (and their parents) are putting an awful lot of weight on an increasingly underfunded school system by doing that, in addition to flushing that year of income down the toilet.
Year over year I’ve seen some radically different approaches to victory lapping. In 2018 I had some very strong students victory lap and in doing so they did incredible, portfolio building things that helped them get into nearly impossible to access post-secondary programs. When students do that with a victory lap, ie: ride it like they stole it, then I’d argue it’s a brilliant strategy. They might have lost a lower last year of earnings, but they’ve gained a new career trajectory that annihilates that loss. In the case of 2018, where our victory lappers were winning their way to national titles and opening up career opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have considered, you’d be hard pressed to make an argument, economic or otherwise, for not doing it.
A few years ago I noticed that our victory lappers were often hanging around the computer tech lab having completed the course curriculum. In many cases they were heading into digital technologies in post secondary and needed a final boost in terms of experience and an opportunity to build portfolio. A few years ago I developed the TEN4M course, specifically designed for digital technologies students looking to build portfolio for post secondary. Up until this year it has worked a treat. An opportunity to exercise engineering process and lead a self directed project that raises digital literacy in our school has been very beneficial.
The first year we did it Zach, who had struggled earlier on, was able to direct his new found maturity into his development as an IT technician to the point where he dominated Skills Ontario provincials with the highest technical score and a gold medal, and then a top five finish in Canada. In the years since we’ve had students who have helped hone the TGI Game Development course into the weapon it is today, medal winning co-op students who have developed programs with our feeder schools to enhance both their technology and their teaching of it and a wide variety of other students who have developed the hands on technical experience needed to launch themselves into a career in tech. Cal, our most recent Skills Ontario champion, used his victory lap to help form our first CyberTitan cyber security team and land us a national finalist position, then he went on to win Skills Ontario and get another top 5 national finish. Cam, another of last year’s victory lappers, also helped launch our CyberTitan program and then went on to a top 10 finish in our first ever attempt at coding at Skills. In both cases these experiences launched them into Waterloo’s Computer Science program, which is notoriously hard to access.
Finding the time to develop and explore technical skills that require hands-on experience and space to develop is especially challenging in an Ontario secondary curriculum that is still very much focused on academics. For the students (and there are many) who want to work with their hands rather than at a desk, having an extra year to focus on applied skills is invaluable in a system where every subject is mandatory except those that teach hands-on technical skills. For students who are trying to expand their digital portfolio in order to access difficult post-secondary options, it really is a necessity if the curriculum is going to remain as it is.
It looks like we’ve got a pretty good handle on how to accelerate students accessing a victory lap into post-secondary options, but this past year has been a victory lap disaster. In semester one my only victory lapping student wasn’t interested in leading projects or improving school technology access and learning (the point of the course: using your digital expertise, help to improve the school’s digital access and usage). From the year before when I had students blowing expectations (both mine and their own) out of the water, I went to 2019s flaccid VLappers who were just looking for a free go-around with no initiative or effort required. In semester two they were so shaky they just ended up dropping out – after flushing a year of income down the toilet. In cases like this, it’s hard to justify victory lapping in any way.
For the students who need to make up credits or align their high school trajectory with a difficult to access program, I have infinite patience when it comes to victory lapping, but for the directionless, there needs to be something in place (a charge for dropped/failed courses?) that stops this being a year of doing as little as they can while draining a system that is already being strangled financially. If students are victory lapping with purpose, developing their capabilities using focus from late blooming maturity, then I am more than happy to pay the taxes that enable them to fight their way into a world that is more economically inaccessible now than it has been for any previous cohort.