Saturday, February 03, 2001

'Senioritis' can cheat students' futures

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ashley Oltman of Kings says she's taking 'fun' classes to hold her interest.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Senior slack. Senior slump. Senioritis. The terminology may sound cute, but it masks a malady that some local educators say is striking earlier and more often in high school. Too many students are coasting through their senior years, apparently spending more time working and partying and less time studying.

        The consequences can be serious:

        • Nearly one-third of students entering college require remedial help.

        • Colleges can revoke admissions and scholarships.

        “I started experiencing ("senioritis') in the first couple weeks of school,” said Anderson High School senior David Rosenfeldt, 17.

        “You lose all your motivation to study and do homework. When you get accepted into college, it's hard to keep your concentration.”

        Kings High School senior Lindsay Woods, 17, also pleaded guilty.

        “After applying to colleges and getting accepted, you don't care about grades anymore.” Lindsay, an A-range student, has already been accepted to several of the schools to which she applied.

        Finishing every written assignment and completing all the required reading is a challenge, she said.

        “You're so exhausted by your senior year — you're just tired of doing it,” Lindsay said. “Plus, you want to experience as much socially as you can.”

  A study by the National Commission on the High School Senior Year found:
  • Remedial help takes place in all community colleges, in four of five public four-year universities and in more than six of 10 private four-year institutions.
  • A large number of students require remediation, ranging from 13 percent at private four-year colleges to 41 percent at public two-year institutions.
  Other sources have found:
  • International analyses in recent years have indicated that the performance of American elementary school students ranks relatively strong, middle school students average and high school students near the bottom.
  • Research shows students can benefit from structured, work-based learning. Good jobs can help students understand why literature and physics are important, but too many hours complicate learning.
        A report released last month by the National Commission on the High School Senior Year painted a dismal picture of the state of high schools, saying many parents and students don't know what it takes to succeed in postsecondary education. Even high-achieving students drift through their senior year, treating it as a “prolonged farewell to adolescence,” the report's authors said.

        The commission, chaired by Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, is made up of teachers, school administrators, business leaders and legislators.

        At Raymond Walters College in Blue Ash, remediation is a problem, said Mary

        Stagaman, director of college relations at the two-year campus for the University of Cincinnati.

        About a third of incoming freshmen at Ohio's two-year colleges require remediation, she said.

        “I think 30 percent is a matter of concern,” Ms. Stagaman said. “The faculty here working to reduce remediation would say we have a way to go.”

Juggling activities
               Work outside school can be a major problem, according to a 1998 report by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine — two divisions of the National Academy of Sciences.

        Students under 18 who work more than 20 hours per week don't do as well in school, according to the report. They're also more likely to use drugs and forsake sleep and exercise.

        About 44 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds work at some point throughout the year, either while in school or during the summer, according to the Labor Department. But in surveys of high school students, about 80 percent say they held a job during the school year at some point in high school.

        Laura Curtin, 17, an A-student at Beechwood High School in Fort Mitchell, said she sacrifices sleep for her after-school job at the Fort Mitchell Drug Shoppe.

        Laura works 20 to 25 hours a week, often 3:30-to-9 p.m. shifts on weekdays, to pay for car insurance. She may skip softball this spring because she would have to find substitutes at work.

        “Sometimes (work) does get in the way,” Laura said. “Getting schoolwork done can be a balancing act of late nights and pre-planning.”

        Not all students balance as well.

        “If students try to work too many hours, do too many extracurricular activities and study, something's going to suffer,” said Dr. Fred Bassett, superintendent of the Beechwood Independent School District.

        Campbell County High School principal Stephen Sorrell, an educator of 20-plus years, said “senioritis” strikes earlier every year.

        “Kids are seeing an end to a section of their lives and are ready to move on,” Mr. Sorrell said. “The best thing we can do is keep them interested in what they're learning.”

        Ashley Oltman, a mostly A student at Kings, said she scheduled fun classes her final semester — art and photography — in part to maintain her interest.

        Ashley has had a busy year, working three days a week, serving as president of her church's youth group, participating in the school curriculum council and tak ing a sign language class.

        “This keeps my mind focused on something,” she said as she assembled a photo collage in a recent class. “I have a fun project to do, not like a book report.”

Colleges do watch
               Colleges and universities can rescind acceptance or scholarships if a student fails miserably his senior year.

        Jody Petersen, a guidance counselor at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, said she tells students that colleges pay attention to grades from day one of freshman year to the last day of senior year.

        Patrick Herring, director of Undergraduate Admission at the University of Kentucky, said he also pays close attention to high school seniors' course loads. Blow-off years don't bode well for acceptance there, he said.

        Seniors have better chances if they take at least four academic classes in their final high school year, he said, with two being advanced-placement classes — those are classes in which college credit can be received.

        “We tell them the senior year schedule can make all the difference in the world,” he said.

        Gannett News Service contributed to this report.

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