Arizona Republic
December 18, 2006

Author: Pat Kossan, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 5

It's senior year and the hardest work is over. For many high school students, that means it's time to coast.

The usual way is to take four hours of class in the morning -- including perhaps cooking, ceramics or as a teacher's aide -- then at 11:30 or so, head to a job or home to while away time on the computer.

But educators have a new message: The days when seniors can slide are coming to an end.

State and district officials are taking steps to ramp up the year's value and intensity, including lengthening the school day.

Within a decade, the beloved half-day option will be extinct.

School officials are asking themselves why they allow so many students to ease off during their senior year when Arizona education is under fire and the global marketplace demands higher skills.

Students can expect to face more required internships and tougher courses just to graduate, such as the stepped-up math proposed by a governor's panel last week. Schools also want to persuade students to stay on campus by offering a wider variety of college courses or online courses, such as Japanese.

Next month, state schools chief Tom Horne will ask lawmakers to increase full-time student hours from a minimum of four a day to five. Because schools get more money for full-time students, the change would pressure districts to find ways to keep seniors in school at least five of the day's six hours. Some district officials said that would cost the schools more money.

School vs. work

Not all half-day seniors are taking light loads and playing video games.
Some take serious courses and leave by noon to go to work, earning money for college or a car or to help with the bills at home.

Joni Brown's three oldest children left their Peoria high school campus early during their senior years to work, and that makes her proud. Her fourth, Jesse, 17, also is attending half a day, then working at a tire store to pay his bills. Brown, a secretary, raised the kids herself.

"I wasn't able to give my kids things like cars and cells," said Brown, whose three oldest became a teacher, a hairstylist and a mortgage-company worker. "My children were big achievers and worked to get those things for themselves."

Still, many educators say allowing seniors to skate on academics is not doing them any favors.

The millennium generation will need higher math and language skills whether they are headed for a university, a technical school or the workplace.
College recruiters advise juniors not to let up in their final year or they risk being unprepared for the college grind.

Districts drive changes

Several districts are pushing beyond state requirements to get more seniors back into full school days.

* Mesa Unified is considering requiring students to complete two semesters of a subject to earn extra credit for accelerated courses. That would discourage them from shrugging off the second half of senior course work.

* Glendale Union plans to add internships and fieldwork that match a student's career interests, such as learning in hospitals or at engineering firms.

* Peoria Unified is looking at more advanced online classes and additional courses that allow students to get both high school and college credits.

Many districts already require more than the state's minimum 20 credits to graduate. Peoria requires 28, for example.

Jennifer Johnson, associate superintendent at the Glendale Union High School District, said the half-day tradition in senior year began a few decades ago when students figured out they would easily earn 20 or more credits by their junior year. The Arizona State Board of Education is studying increasing the number of required credits.

The senior day already is growing longer for students who attend special classes to help pass or excel on the AIMS exam, which they need to earn a diploma or, if they score high, a tuition waiver.

Wings to soar

How tough students choose to make their senior year often has to do with their future expectations.

Patrick Bagley, 17, a Greenway High School senior, leaves the Phoenix school at noon but is not taking the weightlifting or cooking classes that other seniors he knows do.

He takes pre-calculus, government, a required fourth year of English and advanced marketing. He still will have more credits than he needs to graduate. He must have a job to get full credit for his marketing course. He now works two jobs, expects to attend community college and find a career in the Army.

Senior Janessa Caro, on the other hand, saved easier courses for senior year. The 17-year-old at Westview High School in Avondale will get just the
22 credits she needs by graduation day. Caro goes to school from 9:20 a.m.
to noon and takes two of her favorite subjects: English and government.

"I just like having the free time off," Caro said. "It makes me feel like an adult. I can pass these classes easily. I know I'm going to graduate."

Caro uses her afternoons to run errands for her mother, such as picking up her younger brother from school. She also works evenings in a clothing store. Next semester, however, Caro said she plans to take an afternoon course at Estrella Mountain Community College.

Like many administrators across the Valley, Tolleson Union High School District Superintendent Kino Flores is working to add options for his seniors and keep them on campus all day. Flores not only worries about their academic potential going to waste but also the temptations of an empty afternoon that could lead to drug abuse or pregnancy.

"It's all about them wanting their wings to soar," Flores said of his students. "As much as we want to believe in them, students do not always make good decisions."

High school requirements

The state requires a minimum of 20 credits to graduate from high school.

Some districts require more to get a diploma. For example, Paradise Valley Unified requires 22 credits of all its students to graduate. Others, such as Glendale Union, give special diplomas to students who complete additional pre-college-level credits, beyond the 20.

A student earns one-half credit for each semester of work. Here are the minimum state requirements.

* 4 credits in English.

* 1.5 credits in American and Arizona history.

* 1 credit in world history or geography.

* 2 credits in math.

* 2 credits in science.

* 1 credit in fine arts or vocational education.

* 8.5 credits left to local school boards to determine.

Since most students attend school for six hours their first three years, they can finish up all but a few of the required credits by junior year.
That allows them in their senior year to attend school less than a full day or take electives.

-- Pat Kossan

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CAPTION: Jesse Brown leaves high school early to work just like his older siblings did, and that makes his mom proud. CAPTION: Allen Deerman (right) bowls with his friend Will Fields at AMF Deer Valley Bowling Lanes in Phoenix on Tuesday. Deerman, a high school senior, has earned enough credits to leave campus at noon. CAPTION: It's midday on a school day. Janessa Caro
(right) is running errands for her mother. Jesse Brown (below) is on the job. Some seniors leave school early to work or help at home. Some leave to play. But those days may be coming to an end.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Front
Page: A1