High School Report Card
SATs, RaMPs, PhDs... We give you all the stats, info, and explanation you need to evaluate your local high school.
(page 6 of 6)
In the most common format, two teams of two students each take turns pummeling each other with facts, figures, logic, and opinions in an effort to convince a panel of judges that their argument is best. This year’s question, which is debated throughout the school year, is, “Resolved: Should the Federal Government increase alternative energy incentives in the United States?” Students have to be ready to debate either side and discuss the intricacies of numerous possible issues like nuclear power subsidies and cap-and-trade programs. To compete at the highest level takes not only a willingness to stand up and speak to an audience, but to spend hours and hours researching a complex issue. Coach Bauschcard estimates that top performers will devote 1,000 hours of preparation to a topic.
That kind of work pays off in some tangible ways. Bauschard points out that schools like Emory, Northwestern, and Wake Forest offer debate scholarships. Texas and Florida don’t offer scholarships, he says, but they will help by allowing out-of-state debaters to pay in-state tuition, find them work-study jobs, and offer other forms of financial assistance.
White Plains Measures Up
Much justifiable acclaim is paid to Westchester schools that deliver an endless supply of applicants to Ivy League universities, but that’s an easier task in many respects than the one accomplished by White Plains High. During the last five years, the second-largest high school in the county has nearly erased the academic performance gaps in its diverse student population.
The Regents test scores tell the tale. In the 2004 English exam, 95 percent of white students scored 65 and above while only 75 percent of the black and 71 percent of the Hispanic students made that grade at the school. With a multi-faceted approach and substantial effort, the school not only pushed 99 percent of the white students to that level by 2008, but brought Hispanic and black kids up to 91 percent and 87 percent, respectively. Similar gains were seen in the Math Regents. Principal Ivan Toper says they won’t stop until there is no performance gap at all.
Nearly everyone pitches in to make it happen. “We run an after-school academic tutoring program three days a week,” Toper explains. “During the day, we have a tutoring program run by our National Honors Society. Teachers provide extensive time for students during their common lunch time when students can go for extra help.” Participation is voluntary, but nearly 200 students (that’s 10 percent of the total student body) take part in the after-school tutoring alone, encouraged and prodded to do the extra work by counselors, teachers, other students, and involved parents.
In addition, White Plains has developed a weekly after-school program for Hispanic students that focuses not on academic tutoring but on helping them understand the importance of scholastic achievement in our society. “We might have a former student who was successful in college come back and speak to that experience,” Toper says. “We’ll have a registrar from a college in the area speak about what it means to get into the college and what it means to stay in college. We’ll have a trip to a university to show them what their life could be like. We’ll expose them to scholarship opportunities.”
The Hispanic enrichment program started three years ago. The first year, the target was 23 senior Latino students who hadn’t yet passed the English Regents, a requirement for graduation. They went through nine weeks without direct academic intervention, Toper explains, “but we gave them all these other things in terms of self-esteem, learning to communicate, do job interviews, etc. We also gave them the opportunity to go into the after-school tutoring if they wished—we wanted them to be self-motivated.” Twenty-one of the 23 students passed that year.
The extra effort isn’t just for seniors at White Plains. Four years ago, the school launched the Emerging Scholars Program, designed to identify middle school students whose academic scores suggest they have the ability, but who haven’t otherwise been honors or advanced students. They’re encouraged to accept the greater challenge by a pre-freshman year summer institute. Once in the high school, special counselors are assigned and they have a special study hall period manned by teachers. Roughly 100 students are part of that effort. “It’s been incredibly successful in not only identifying students who might not have otherwise been in honors or AP,” Toper says, “but maintaining them in those programs.
Sleepy Hollow Remembers
Seniors in Sleepy Hollow High’s Participation in Government and Contemporary Issues class take a giant step forward into the 21st century by delving into some of the most horrific events of modern times. Using the Holocaust, the civil rights struggle in America, the genocide in Rwanda, and other current examples of hate, racism, and discrimination, they study the connections between historical events and the choices they make in their own lives. The course has been offered in one form or another for 10 years, with issues changing with the times.
“The course consists of more than just hand-wringing over the world’s humanitarian crises,” says Social Studies Chair Jessica Hunsberger. “There is more to being a citizen than just being concerned. The kids get a good understanding of the complexity of modern global issues. Hopefully, they take away a sense that they can make a difference as an individual.”
About 125 seniors take the semester-long class, which includes field trips and brings in guest speakers. In addition, teacher Lisa Graham explains, class time is spent in debate, discussion, and role-playing. “We don’t want them to walk away with definitive opinions but rather with an interest in learning and knowing more about the issues,” she says.
The course opened this school year with a field trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The students then worked in teams to research and create PowerPoint presentations about genocides from Armenia to Darfur and the Congo. In November, the students met with Sergeant David Cyr, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and two tours of duty in Iraq, who spoke about what his experiences taught him. The students also attended a workshop on Darfur and wrote letters to children living in refugee camps. Last year, they created a huge flag and delivered it to the UN as part of an event drawing attention to the genocide in Darfur.
This isn’t your grandfather’s civics class.
Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison. He has many fond memories of his own high school career, some of which even include academics.