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A high school in Ohio says it's doing away with valedictorians to make mental health a priority — and experts think its a game-changing policy

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A high school in Mason City, Ohio, thinks that it has spent years fostering a culture of competition. Now, it wants to undo that.

On Thursday, Mason High School announced that starting in 2020 it will no longer recognize a graduating class’ valedictorian and salutatorian. In the press release, the school’s principal Bobby Dodd said the decision was made with students’ mental health in mind.

Instead, they will be moving to the Latin honors system where students with a GPA of 4.00 and higher can graduate with summa cum laude honors; students with a GPA between 3.75 and 3.99 will be given the designation magna cum laude; and those with a GPA between 3.51 to 3.74 will be given cum laude distinction.

Although the school will still be taking note of “class ranks” among the students, they will not be used to determine graduating honors or reported to colleges during the application process, the press release said.

The decision came after a year-long study and focus groups consisting of students, staff, and families. And it’s just the first step.

In order to further upend competitive culture, the school also plans to start 30 minutes later, reduce the amount of homework given, lighten the “summer work” load, and introduce a revamped weighted credits system, according to the press release.

Read more: A Rhode Island school district has changed its lunch policy following national backlash after it said students who owed money would only be served jelly sandwiches

“The recognition system will reward our students for genuine academic success based on their academic accomplishments,” Dodd said. “This will help reduce the overall competitive culture at MHS to allow students to focus on exploring learning opportunities that are of interest to them.”

This decision will be good for students in the long run

Sean Grover, the author of When Kids Call the Shots and a psychotherapist who has worked with families and schools in the New York area for 25 years, told INSIDER he completely agrees with the policy.

“There are plenty of studies that suggest that students who achieve high academic scores don’t always make a positive transition to real life,” Grover told INSIDER. “When the emphasis is on getting graded rather than who you are and what makes you unique, it’s hard to function in an unstructured environment after graduation.”

He stressed just how important it is for students to develop an identity outside of the classroom — which is what the policy aims to do.

“One of the primary tasks of adolescence is achieving a stable identity. Emphasizing academics as a primary source of self-worth creates an unhealthy imbalance and vastly undermines a teenager’s healthy and balanced sense of self,” he explained.

The therapist told INSIDER that he thinks the decreased emphasis on competition and the increased value on developing hobbies, passions, and interests will be good for Mason High School students in the long run.

“Developing talents, having multiple sources of self-esteem, experiencing positive peer relationships, finding joy in movement or exercise, knowing the value of altruistic activities, all these important experiences get lost in a highly academically competitive environment,” he said. “Teenagers need to feel they have more value than their grade point average.”

This isn’t the first time discussion about removing valedictorian designations has come up. In 2018, Sofia Partida, a co-valedictorian at West Aurora High School in Aurora, Illinois, suggested academic honors titles be removed because “It causes extreme pressure early on, not just in your junior and senior years but even starting in middle school years.”

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