While high school seniors don their graduation robes, education officials at the Ohio Department of Education mull over how to improve the final year of high school and make it more productive.
Earlier this month we told you about some of the ideas for improving senior year, but some of you took offense at suggestions that 12th graders often “coast through senior year,” as Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro put it.
For example, Josh Davis, a teacher at high school teacher Beachwood City Schools left this comment for us:
As a college prep senior English teacher in a suburban high school, I can tell you that my students work very hard until they begin their senior projects in May. They read challenging literature, write a research paper, and the majority of them stay engaged until the last minute.
StateImpact Ohio called Davis to find out a bit more about how he keeps his students engaged up until graduation day. Davis largely places the burden on himself, and teachers like him.
“I understand where people are coming from, this thing called ‘senioritis’ is not made up,” Davis admits. “But the question is whether the staff or the community of high school will allow them to succumb to that.”
Davis says it’s only human nature to want to give in to a year of relaxing after three or four years of hard high school work. He ensures his students stay busy through a big English research project.
Davis also takes offense at one of the most popular solutions offered to slacker seniors: post-secondary classes.
“There’s a bit logical flaw in saying that kids currently are graduating high school not prepared for college so we’re going to send them to take college classes a year earlier,” Davis says. In fact, he takes an opposite lesson from statistics showing that 41 percent of Ohio’s college freshman need at least one remedial course, and that’s to give them more preparation before taking on college level courses.
Of course, Beachwood is an affluent East-side suburb of Cleveland where parents motivate students to work hard early on. Davis says he acknowledges that he is “very lucky” to have such students, but he says high expectations should be set by all teachers in all sorts of districts.
That’s easier said than done, says Jeremy Booth. He left this comment on our initial story:
I am a recent college graduate working in a inner city high school in Cincinnati. In college, I thought my suburban high school did a poor job of preparing me for college, even though I was a straight A student, but I got through after a 2 year adjustment period. Then…I got to the other end, in a lower performing high school. They have Senior Projects and papers and presentations…but the mindset is so relaxed that I seriously doubt the success of a lot of these students. There is a major disparity between what is needed and what is being done, and you wouldn’t know it unless you worked in a school like mine. It’s quite startling.
Booth currently works at Shroder High School in Cincinnati, as a Project Reach advisor through AmeriCorps. Basically, he counsels students on their academic and career goals.
But he grew up in Barberton where his experience at the local public school was a senior year that was “very relaxed.”
Booth describes himself as a hard working student who still managed to graduate high school with a 4.6 GPA. He says he decided to reward himself with an easy year as a high school senior, and most of his teachers let him. He remembers goofing off in the back of his AP Chemistry classroom with some friends on a regular basis.Now, he says he realizes that “taking that one year off made college all that much harder.” In fact, Booth says the transition to college was so challenging he lost a scholarship in his first few years at Ohio State University – one he eventually regained by his junior year.
Booth places the blame on himself but also on teachers and parents who don’t push students early on, and who let poor students slide by in an effort to protect their schools’ graduation rates and reputation.
Shroder High School – where he currently works – does have a senior project, but Booth says students are wholly unprepared for it and the accompanying 20-page paper. Furthermore, Booth says that senior project does little to prepare seniors for college.
What might help, he says, is to start assessing student’s abilities and needs well before SAT’s and ACT’s roll around. For some of his students at Shroder High School, Booth says college may not be the best next step, but it’s the only one they’re presented with.
The emphasis on post-secondary education may be the one area where folks like Booth and Davis agree: both say pushing college classes on students before they’re ready is not a way to improve the senior year of high school. After all, they say, highly motived students are already seeking out those kinds of classes, and the rest probably need a little more time in high school.