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North Hills Monthly

Preparing for Life after High School

Jan 01, 2017 02:25PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Shady Side Academy

Famed racecar driver Bobby Unser once said that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. Today’s high schools are preparing students for success by offering myriad opportunities to get a jumpstart on their futures.

At Shady Side Academy’s Senior School in Fox Chapel, the entire curriculum is designed to prepare students for college. The school’s approach is unusual in that the focus is not on getting students into advanced placement (AP) or college in the high school (CHS) classes. Instead, explained Lauren Lieberman, director of college counseling, the philosophy is to develop the foundational skills required to be successful learners—in high school, college and beyond.

Toward that end, few AP courses are offered. Lieberman said the approach allows students to follow a path of academic inquiry because they are curious and engaged, instead of working toward a score on an AP exam.

The expectation is that all students go on to four-year colleges and universities, and the curriculum is rigorous. Shady Side students who elect to take an AP test without having taken the AP course often do quite well, Lieberman said, but the lack of constraint with non-AP courses provides space for intellectual curiosity.

“The world is complicated,” Lieberman said. “We want them to wrestle with ideas.” 

Faculty considers college preparation well beyond the coursework, helping students develop abilities such as leadership, collaboration and time-management.

Lieberman, who worked in admissions at the University of Chicago before her career as a high school counselor, cautioned that high school is not just about preparing for college. “It’s about living this time well,” she explained. If students do that, she said, they will become the kind of people that colleges want to admit. 

Oakland Catholic High School likewise has a comprehensive college preparatory curriculum and sends virtually all of its graduates on to college. Within that demanding curriculum, students have a range of options that includes honors courses, AP classes and college equivalency (CE) coursework.

Kait Long, director of college counseling for Oakland Catholic, said that the challenging nature of all the classes helps students develop the higher-order thinking skills needed in college. Analytical skills, critical thinking and higher-level math ability benefit students pursuing a college degree. Long stressed the importance of learning to handle a demanding workload for students who plan to attend college.

Oakland Catholic offers 16 AP courses, from calculus and computer science to languages, history and statistics. Through partnerships with nearby University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University, Oakland Catholic provides students with the option of taking up to five CE courses, including chemistry and physics, for college credit. 

With its CE classes, students learn on their own campus from Oakland Catholic teachers, but study a college-level curriculum and receive credit from the university upon passing the class. Many universities accept such credits and will honor another college’s credits on the student’s high school transcript, although students should be sure to check out the specific requirements for their intended colleges and majors. 

Jo Danhires, who coordinates Carlow University’s CHS program, said that such classes benefit everyone involved. High school students have a better idea of the demands of college coursework. Universities can connect with talented high school students and let them know about their programs. One of the biggest advantages for families is financial: Carlow charges $180 for a three-credit CHS course, while enrolled students pay approximately $2,500 for a three-credit university course. 

Seneca Valley High School—where approximately 82 percent of students head directly to college, 15 percent pursue vocational training or go into the workforce, and another 3 percent enlist in the military—has both an expansive college prep program and robust technical and career-training options for students who plan to go directly into the workforce.

With 23 AP classes, an extensive list of honors courses and 21 classes where students can earn college credit through partnerships with the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow University, Butler County Community College and Community College of Beaver County, students who wish to prepare for the rigor and pace of college have a wide array of options to do so.

Such courses benefit students because they provide opportunities to explore areas of interest, explained Keith Chrestay, counselor at Seneca Valley Senior High School. With both AP and CHS classes, he said, students are prepared at a more challenging level for what to expect in college. Students who are successful in these classes not only have the potential to save money on college tuition, but can also free up space in their college schedules for electives or a second major.

Chrestay said that Seneca Valley is committed to helping its students prepare for whatever their next steps may be, including jobs or further training at career technical colleges. The district has a relationship with Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School (BCAVTS).

Through this partnership, Seneca Valley students may enroll in one of 15 programs of study. Beginning in 10th grade, students can take three credits each year at BCAVTS; they spend the morning at the technical school, then take core academic classes at Seneca Valley in the afternoons.

BCAVTS has programs in advertising design, carpentry, culinary arts, heavy equipment repair and 12 other fields. Through Pennsylvania’s Students Occupationally and Academically Ready (SOAR) program, students who meet certain qualifications may acquire credits with postsecondary institutions that participate in SOAR.

With a multitude of options to help prepare for life after high school, students are bound for success.