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BHS students reflect on school's strengths: School ranked 22nd in all of Minnesota; earns national honors

AP Economics teacher Rick Toward helps his students for their final exams on Thursday afternoon at Bemidji High School, which recently was ranked No. 22 of all high schools in Minnesota. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- When Bemidji High School was named among the best high schools in the state, it came as little to surprise to the students who have roamed the halls here the past four years.

"You have the opportunity to do whatever you want, to pursue whatever you are interested in," said Erin Jones.

U.S. News and World Report last week named Bemidji High School the 22nd best school in the state, earning it a silver medal. The tabulation was based on student-teacher ratios, AP scores, and reading and math scores through the MCAs..

According to the report, 40 percent of BHS students take AP tests, of which 83 percent receive passing scores.

Kayla Hewitt would be among them. Assuming she passed last week's AP Calculus exam, which she said she expected to do, she will graduate this month with 36 college credits.

"They have a huge range of AP class so you can get a head start on college," she said.

U.S. News and World Report, which last year ranked BHS No. 30 and this year ranked it No. 1,003 of all U.S. high schools, reported that 84 percent of the student body meet or exceed reading proficiency standards for the state.

A selection of seniors gathered recently to talk about their high-school experiences. Some were stronger academically while others were heavily involved in the arts or more dedicated to athletics. But all praised the school for having a wide variety of options available.

"I'm not an athletic person, but I'm really dedicated to the arts and that's totally fine here," Jones said. "If you're dedicated to athletics, that's one of the same, it's totally fine. It's all about where you fit in, where you're dedicated."

Students also said that if the high school does not have a special offering, staff works to make it available to them.

"Even though our school doesn't really have any computer science classes, I'm really interested in computer science, so I was able to take a class at BSU," said John McKeown.

There are a selection of options available for students interested in pursuing college credit, either taking AP courses on campus, choosing to attend post-secondary options at a local college or university, or taking College in the High School courses offered at BHS.

Teachers are also willing, if enough students show interest, to add a "zero hour" before school to offer a specific course students can't take during the regular school day.

But outside of the traditional textbook courses, students also complimented the offerings for hands-on learning, such building an actual house through construction courses or checking oil and repairing cars through auto classes.

"It's not just books, we learn real-life skills," said Brad Olson.

A lot to do

Students agreed they've learned one important life lesson attributable to the high school even though it wasn't specifically taught during a class: time management.

Sam Carlson, for example, has competed in cross country, track and hockey as well as taking part in extracurriculars such as jazz band, choir and math league.

"With academics and athletics, it gets pretty crazy because everyone is scheduling their practices at the same time," he said.

Track practice is after school at 3:15 p.m. and jazz band practices beforehand, at 7:30 a.m. Meanwhile, his choir instructor tries to be flexible, letting students choose between practices at either 7:30 a.m. or 3:15 p.m.

"I can pick, yet I can't, not really," Carlson said.

Brad Olson said he hadn't really had a free weekend -- other than those around Christmas break -- until February this school year.

"With sports, or show choir or speech, or really anything, every weekend you seem to have something going on," he said.

Yet, despite sharing perhaps one regret -- take pre-AP classes that are more difficult than traditional course but not weighted -- all the students looked back positively on their high-school experiences.

"The whole atmosphere here at the school, it's just really motivating, hardworking," Olson said. "Everybody really gets along."