Proposed changes to the standards schools must meet for state accreditation and the requirements students must meet to earn a high school diploma are being lauded by local school officials — and likely students as well.
Revisions recently approved by the Virginia Board of Education reduce the number of Standards of Learning tests students must pass to earn a diploma, and also implement a new program, “Profile of a Virginia Graduate.”
The program encourages more career exploration, said Cyndi Williams, assistant superintendent of instruction.
“The biggest impact is it expands career opportunities to our students. The program talks about having students life-ready when they graduate, which I think is a wonderful improvement. It’s about more than being in classroom,” she said.
Students can incorporate those real life experiences into their future, whether they plan to attend college, enter the workforce or join a branch of the military, Williams said.
The goal of the program is “to get kids involved in the community. It puts more emphasis on developing what we call the 5-Cs,” Williams said of critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and citizenship skills.
“This is huge. It opens up opportunities for our kids to have real life learning experiences” that will help them transition after high school, she said.
For instance, “we have students placed in 12 different co-op locations, 12 businesses, where students can work and actually get paid,” Williams said of offerings available to Patrick County High School students.
She explained cooperative education is a method of instruction that combines career and technical classroom instruction with paid employment that is directly related to the classroom program. Both student instruction and employment are planned and supervised by the school and the employer so that each contributes to the student’s career objectives and employability.
Students may co-op in several areas: Agriculture Education; Business and Information Technology; Career Connections; Family and Consumer Sciences; Health and Medical Sciences; Marketing; and Trade and Industrial Education.
Williams said the two programs are successful because the community support.
Teachers, guidance department staff and two assistant principals — Robin Ferguson and Becky Rogers –work hard to build and foster partnerships between the school and the community, she added.
Co-op partners in and around the community are Lowes Foods, Signature Floors, Roger Carter DBA/AC Carter & Son, D&R Services, Ten Oaks, Parrish Farm, Leon Bowman’s Garage, 13 Bones, Blue Ridge Therapy, Marshalls, Wood’s Produce and David Harrell Farm, Williams said.
“We also have a public service program in which students who take the public service course” are paired with a community service partner in a medical, dental or other community service agency “to basically get real life experiences,” Williams said.
The school division currently partners with Dr. Noel Kornett DDS; Stuart Elementary School; Patrick County Family Practice; Patrick County Recreation Department; Medicomp PT; Patrick County Eye Associates and Dr. Greg Hutchens DDS in the community service program, Williams said.
“We want those real world opportunities so our students have more experience and are more prepared when they leave us,” Williams said.
Additionally, the proposal decreases the number of verified credits needed to graduate, Williams said.
“Our students will have to take fewer SOL tests and they’ll have more career exploration,” Williams said. “That’s wonderful and that’s our goal. Our goal is to prepare students for when they leave us. We want them to be prepared and ahead of the curve.”
The revisions are expected to win final approval in January. New diploma requirements are set to take effect with students entering the ninth grade next fall – the class of 2022.
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