Virginia Tackles High School 'Senioritis'
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
Alexander Butler, 17, a senior at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Va., isn't coasting toward graduation. He's taking college-level computer classes that can land him a high-tech job paying $40,000 a year when he receives his high school diploma.
Butler is among 2,250 high school seniors involved in a new program Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) kicked off this month aimed at putting an end to "senioritis," an academic situation that allows students to loaf through their final year with easy classes.
Warner told Stateline.org that Senior Year Plus is unlike other programs in that it allows both college-bound seniors and students who want jobs right out of high school to earn college credits -- with the state picking up the tab. The program will go statewide in 2005-2006.
For those going to college, students enrolled in Senior Year Plus will be able to earn up to a full semester of college credit. Currently about one in five Virginia high school seniors takes a college-level class, but they aren't permitted to earn a full semester of college credit.
For those not interested in college, students in Senior Year Plus can take courses at a community college and begin to earn certification in a technical trade --such as information technology or auto mechanics -- or as a licensed practical nurse.
Butler, whose high school is one of those pioneering the program, calls Warner's plan "an excellent idea" that can help dispel senioritis and "make the school a better place to learn."
The program is expected to cost $5 million in 2006 when it is offered statewide. But Warner said part of the program is expected to pay for itself. College-bound students who take up to 15 credit hours during senior year will complete college in seven semesters instead of eight. That saves both the state and families, he said, since the state subsidizes students who attend in-state schools.
Susan Elliott, assistant principal at Forest Park High School said the program gives students valuable hands-on experience. Butler and his fellow classmates have refurbished more than 1,000 broken computers and printers that the school donated to local families. The students also redesigned keyboards to make it easier for disabled children to use the equipment.
"They are already putting into practice what Governor Warner is talking about, in terms of being able to walk from this facility and go right into a job," she said.
When Butler graduates, he figures he could land a job as an assistant to a computer network administrator, but Butler has changed his mind about his career and plans to attend college to become a pastor. His computer background, however, won't go to waste. "I can help network the church where I work," he told Stateline.org.
More states need to try "radical solutions" like Virginia's, said Ted Sanders, president of the Education Commission of the States (ECS), a Denver-based group made up of state education leaders. Sanders said for decades educators have known about the "problem" of student laxness during their senior year in high school, but few have done much to tackle it.
Warner is the 2003-2004 chair of the ECS. He and Sanders made their comments during an Oct. 1 Washington, D.C., press conference where they unveiled a series of new ECS reports about improving college access.