A new program at Juneau-Douglas High School that recognizes academic and extracurricular excellence could lead to more students taking advanced courses and more of such courses being offered, students say.
The Juneau School Board on Tuesday approved the enriched education endorsement on JDHS diplomas. The school began the program this fall.
"It's good that we're finally offering something above average," said Alida Bus, a senior who has signed up for the program.
Margo Waring, who heads the extended-learning parent committee at JDHS, said, "I support any efforts which prompt students to excel and to create an environment which encourages high achievement, and, hopefully, this will do that."
To receive the endorsement, students must graduate with a grade-point average of at least 3.5 (B+); take a wide range of academic courses beyond the minimum; participate in after-school activities for four years; specialize in an area such as academics, sports, the arts or leadership; compile a portfolio of work and make a 15- to 20-minute presentation about it.
JDHS counselor Frank Coenraad, who spearheaded the endorsement, said he wanted students to be able to compete better for college admissions and scholarships.
Students apply to colleges in the fall of their senior year, before they will have won the endorsement, but counselors' recommendations will say the students are working toward the endorsement.
About 55 percent of JDHS graduates go on to four-year colleges and another 12 percent enroll in two-year colleges, Coenraad said. They face a very competitive pool of applicants from the Lower 48, where some schools offer honors programs and some states have special diplomas for students who have completed a rigorous curriculum.
"I just wanted our kids to put their best foot forward," he said. "I wanted them to have a target. Some of our kids, they'll do better if they have a target."
The endorsement program can help students organize their high school career and get involved in community and school activities, said Tony Cabasco, acting dean of admissions and financial aid at Whitman College, a highly selective 1,400-student school in Walla Walla, Wash.
The requirements on the endorsement are what Whitman sees from nearly all its applicants, he said.
Forty-one students, including 14 freshmen, have signed up for the program out of roughly 1,600 students. Some of the requirements are being phased in over four years. That way, even this year's seniors are eligible for the endorsement.
"It's kind of pulling together a lot of things I've been working on throughout my high school career," said senior Rachel Bernstein. "It's just another way to show what I accomplished."
Students in the program said it provides recognition for accomplished students and an incentive to take hard classes.
The program requires four years of English and math; three of world languages, science and social science; one year of fine arts and the world of work; half a year of health; and 112 years of physical education. Starting with this year's freshmen, it also requires half a year of a school-to-work program.
Bernstein was taking a range and depth of academic courses anyway, and she has been an exchange student in Israel and has volunteered with the American Field Service exchange program. All of that will go toward meeting the endorsement's requirements.
Olin Robus, a senior, said students who have taken more than the minimally required courses haven't been recognized or appreciated in the past. The endorsement program could jump-start more enrollment in advanced and advanced-placement courses, he added.
Advanced-placement courses, created by The College Board, allow students to earn college credits and impress admissions officers. But JDHS has reduced its AP offerings because not enough students sign up for them.
"Hopefully, there will be a high demand for AP classes ... and the school will offer more classes at a higher level," Bus said.
The endorsement requires students to engage in at least two of what the program calls advanced learning experiences, such as independent study or internships. Students also must perform 60 hours of community service, and participate in at least one school activity each year.
Students also have to specialize in a field such as advanced academics, varsity sports, high-level artistic endeavors, leadership, or advanced technology courses. The choices let kids show their talents in many ways, Coenraad said.
Finally, students must submit a senior paper or portfolio documenting their work and present it to a committee of school and community members.
"It's a goal to work toward," Robus said. "I'm going to build up all this stuff so finally ... I'll have this to demonstrate, show my effort and get recognized for it."
"When they graduate from here, they're going to have a diploma," Coenraad said. "But they're also going to be well-polished. We're going to give them the opportunity to shine."