This school year marks my 18th consecutive year as a parent of students in Highline Public Schools. Over that period of time I have witnessed many changes in curriculum, schedules, staff training and school structures. In my opinion, however, the greatest of these changes has been at the high school level. The transition of Highline’s high schools from large comprehensive high schools to small theme-based schools plus a renewed emphasis on preparing every student for college have introduced a whole new vocabulary to our family and circle of friends.

Over the past five years phrases like “Advisory”, “Portfolio”, “13th Year”, “LAHS” and “CGS” have crept into our home. Ask any high school junior or senior to describe these terms and you will learn that:

  • Advisory is a regularly scheduled class period in which each student meets with a small group of peers and one teacher for the purpose of reviewing tips for success in school, college preparation steps and individual progress towards goals.
  • Portfolio refers to an electronic collection (could be in the form of a website with attachments or a CD or thumb drive with many files) of an individual student’s cumulative work. Each student is required to develop a portfolio and is trained how to use it to present his/her work to parents, guardians, prospective employers and prospective college entrance professionals.
  • 13th Year refers to a graduation requirement in which each student must have a written plan for what he/she will do the year after he/she graduates from high school.
  • LAHS or Life After High School refers to a one-day fair-like event in which students can talk to representatives of after high school opportunities such as two and four year colleges, technical institutes, apprenticeships, military and Job Corps.
  • CGS is College Goal Sunday. Students attend this event with their parents or guardians to get free help in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As a parent who has had to complete the odious form four times and who has many more times to go, I recognize this as a huge help. My first attempt at this form was a mess.

As you read this you may be skeptical and be thinking that these are just new names for things that existed before and that really things are still business as usual. However, as a parent and as a volunteer who works with many high school students from many of the different high schools, I can attest that there is a real change. I see and hear more students with a plan – more students who are moving on to more opportunities straight from high school. Some are choosing two or four year college, others are choosing technical training or apprenticeships while others are choosing military and Job Corps opportunities.

While my observations are anecdotal, reports from the school district confirm what I am seeing. According to Superintendent John Welch’s January 2009 Memorandum to Employees:

The number of students taking the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test required by many four year colleges and universities) is up significantly for the second year in a row. Over the past two years, an additional 89 students have taken the SAT. That’s like adding another large high school campus to our SAT participation.

More students than ever are taking Advanced Placement classes (credits that transfer to college) in high school. In 2007, 248 students took AP exams. A year later, that number was 376. More students are enrolling in Algebra II (a college prerequisite course).

Though we are not where we want to be, our graduation rate is climbing. In 2008, our on-time graduation rate was 72%; for students who needed more than four years, our graduation rate was 80%.

The numbers of graduates meeting entrance requirements for four-year college have gone up dramatically, from 38% in 2005 to almost 50% in 2007.

So, as you are out and about, I encourage you to ask high school students to share with you their 13th Year Plan. From each student you can expect an articulate and interesting response as more and more students are embracing a vision for their futures.