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John Jay works to engage seniors

John Jay High School’s interim principal, John Goetz, recently presented a series of initiatives and goals the high school will put into action over the next year as part of an effort to upgrade curriculum. The improvements include a statistics course and greater flexibility and response to discrepancies between students’ foreign language levels.

The changes in the world language and math curriculums will not incur additional expenses for the district and are expected to be done with current resources, Mr. Goetz said at the school board meeting on Feb. 7. But some initiatives, including a greater focus on keeping seniors engaged, could come with a price tag if the board were to approve them in the future, he said.

“I would like to see the school do a better job with seniors, particularly in the second half of senior year,” he said.

Mr. Goetz drew specific attention to a lack of senior engagement due to a combination of factors, such as “senioritis,” whereby the warm weather and impending graduation draws seniors out of the classrooms and a drop-off in interest after Advanced Placement exams are passed.

To address this beyond what the district currently does, Mr. Goetz would like to bring on board aspects of the Wise Individualized Senior Experience (WISE) program.

The program would be rolled out slowly over the next year and would focus on giving students access to such opportunities as shadowing professionals, in-depth individualized projects, and internships — meaningful, real world experiences that would engage seniors’ interest as it wanes with the winding down of their high school careers. This would help give students exposure to actual professional settings and inform them of the realities of the professions they may choose to pursue in the future, Mr. Goetz said.

“We really do need something like this,” said student board member Sam Gordon. “Students tend to view education as a means to getting into college as opposed to an end. Once they get into the school of their choice they kind of stop trying to learn.”

The program is estimated to initially cost the district $7,500, Mr. Goetz said. But not every board member felt that was money that could, or should, be spent.

“I think it is something that sounds great in concept,” board member Stephanie Tobin said. “[But] why couldn’t we take what we are already doing and try to engage more students into that existing program? We are in a period of fiscal constraint, so I’m not loving any solution that comes with a price tag. I’m thinking more of a homegrown idea of expanding on something we have already.”

She suggested that seniors might be able to work within the school district in internal John Jay internships, such as serving as teacher’s aides.

“To expect that we can pull off a program like this with no dollars at all, I don’t know if that is really realistic,” Mr. Goetz said. “With any type of ambitious program you usually have to have a little seed money.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Kreutzer admitted there was likely a drop in student participation and interest in the spring of senior year, but he compared it with nationwide trends. He was very much in support of Mr. Goetz’s initiative, saying it addressed multiple issues and would be of particular help to highly accelerated students.

“Every child has the right to learn something new and meaningful every single day,” Dr. Kreutzer said. “It is our obligation to provide meaningful and direct opportunities.”

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