Ohio school superintendent defends decision to eliminate valedictorian, salutatorian honors

The superintendent of an Ohio high school has defended the district's decision to eliminate valedictorian and salutatorian honors in an attempt to improve the mental wellbeing of their students.

Jonathan Cooper said during an appearance on "America's Newsroom" on Monday that a spike in suicides at Mason City high school forced the district to consider the level of unhealthy competition among students and find ways to ease their stress.

"As our community looked at some unhealthy patterns the rise in anxiety and depression and suicide," he said. "It's the second leading cause of death in youth today across America, so we started to look at what we can do as school leaders to make a change."

The elimination of valedictorian and salutatorian will be replaced by honors similar to those in college - summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. The district also announced they'd be starting classes thirty minutes later.

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Apart from the academic changes, Cooper said they've also worked to implement wellness programs, including a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program called "Help Squad."

The school's previous model allowed students to tack on 0.3 percent to their grade point average if they made a C or higher in Advanced Placement classes, which led to many kids packing their schedule full of more difficult courses to get the highest possible GPA.

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When pressed by host Bill Hemmer as to whether student stress could be reduced by capping the number of classes kids are allowed to take, Cooper said the school didn't want to limit their creative interests.

"Well, you know, we want our kids to pursue what they're passionate about," he said. "We don't want them to chase a magic number or artificial goal here. We want them to pursue what they're interested in."