Press on through to the end

Published 10:52 pm Thursday, September 20, 2012

Upon returning to school to greet my AP and IB biology classes, I realized I had some unanswered questions from last June. They began rattling around in my head during our graduation ceremony at King’s Fork High School, and they persist at the beginning of my classes this new year.

On graduation day, I wondered how many parents took for granted that a college acceptance equated with earning college degree? We all certainly celebrated the number of students entering either two- or four-year colleges, and the applause for the total value of scholarships awarded was thunderous. Rightfully so.

But I wonder what percentage of our college-accepted seniors were actually successful in earning a degree? How many quit because it was too much of a shock when they didn’t have the padding of classwork and homework grades? How many dropped out, because they did not take the advanced classes during high school that would have better prepared them for real college rigor?

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From The Chronicle of Higher Education, I read a very recent report concerning Virginia’s public college completion rate. Only 49 percent of entering college freshmen earn college degrees in four years. Of those who begin with a Pell Grant, only 17 percent complete their four-year degree plan. Unfortunately, less than 24 percent of students complete a two-year program, once they begin.

So, I wonder. Do parents know the odds of their college-bound student ever finishing?
I wonder if parents know that one of the BEST indicators of their college-bound student beating the odds of being a college dropout is the number of AP or IB classes taken in high school.

The need for science, technology, engineering and math competencies in order to compete for jobs in the 21st century workplace is accelerating at lightning speed each year. AP and IB science and math classes are no longer for some small top percent of students; they are needed by students who intend to be part of even the middle class of the future.

So why do so few students register for AP classes, especially advanced STEM classes? 
And why, after being accepted into Suffolk’s International Baccalaureate program, would parents allow their children to drop out because “it’s too hard,” when in other Tidewater districts, there are waiting lists of students clamoring to be accepted into this highly successful program?

If parents don’t insist that their children step up to the plate in high school, then when will they? Certainly not in college. There, they will be competing with all the students who took IB classes. What will be the cost to drop classes then?

I have heard from guidance counselors that parents of seniors come in and want to help their children drop advanced classes so they can have a ‘fun’ senior year. Do athletes who want to be successful in college take their high school senior year off? Do they quit working out for the year?

If a student has demonstrated ability at the honors level either in middle school or high school, why would a parent not insist on that student continuing the academic workout in AP or IB classes? Building and sustaining brainpower is no different than maintaining a training program for athletes. Taking a year off isn’t a viable option for those who want to be competitive.

How many students can afford a ‘year of fun’ their senior year when facing a competitive global society? I wonder if parents in Finland, in China, in South Korea, or in Japan are signing drop requests for their pre-IB students? Or for their seniors? 
Four, six, or eight years from now, which student will be most prepared for the engineering, biotech, or any other math dependent job? I wonder. 
Parents of honor students, keep your students enrolled in advanced classes for all four years. Your student will thank you someday.

Sherri Story is an AP and IB biology instructor at King’s Fork High School. Email her at