, Salem, MA

March 18, 2013

Letter: Salem's College Bound course should be preserved

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

I addressed the Salem School Committee on Monday, Feb. 25, with the following, which I want to share with the parents of Salem High students:

I have been a resident of Salem for more than 40 years. I have been teaching in the business department at Salem High School for more than 25 years. Before a vote is taken tonight on Salem High’s program of studies, I respectfully ask the School Committee to think long and hard about some of the proposed changes.

The first is the elimination of the College Bound course, an elective for seniors in their fall semester. The business department proposed the course nearly 10 years ago when Dr. Herbert Levine was Salem’s superintendent. It had his full support since he had firsthand experience with it at Peabody High, where it is still offered. My husband and I have helped our three sons with the college application process and know how confusing it can be — and we are college graduates.

I am here to defend the course in its current state so that our students are given as much help in the college application process as students in wealthier communities, where both parents have college degrees and a fair knowledge of the application process. Many of our students do not have ideal support structures at home, and many do not have college-educated parents.

Following is a list of what we teach in the course, as well as some observations:

1. Students are led through numerous websites to help them find colleges that may be good matches.

2. Salem High’s Naviance website is used extensively. It is so full of information that it is hard to absorb everything even after using it numerous times.

3. Many of the students have never set foot on a college campus — and it’s September of their senior year!

4. Many aren’t sure about the significance of their SAT/ACT scores and don’t realize that a combined score of 800 is not the same as 800 on one test of the SATs.

5. They don’t know what kind of degree they earn after four years of college.

6. We help the students understand the difference between early decision, early action, regular and rolling admission — what’s binding/not binding.

7. Most have never been on the Common Application website.

8. Some colleges do not accept the Common Application, so students have to do separate applications.

9. Many Common Applications require supplements, requiring more essays.

10. We help with the proofreading of their applications.

11. We assist with the development and formatting of a résumé.

12. We explain extensively student loans — subsidized, unsubsidized, Stafford, Perkins and Parent Plus — when these loans are due, when the interest kicks in, how much debt they should incur, how to calculate monthly payments, and how much is principal and interest.

13. We review the MEFA book.

14. We teach the students how to analyze financial aid packages — comparing apples with apples.

15. They do scholarship searches.

16. Representatives from the Phillips Scholarship visit our classes.

17. Students all do oral presentations on a college life topic.

The guidance department meets with students many times, either individually or as a group, it sets up financial aid nights and college fairs, but trust me, unless students have someone breathing down their neck every day (like a parent would) and a deadline and a grade hanging over their head, they won’t get things done — they will put it off until the last moment and may not even make the deadline.

Because the students in the College Bound course complete the work described above, quality time can be spent between the student and the guidance counselor. Guidance should not be spending time proofreading and assembling documents and teaching students how to research — their time needs to be used for one-on-one discussion and guidance with students. There is a difference between guidance and teaching.

If you think for a moment that students will give the same amount of time and attention to detail doing their applications on their own and then checking in with guidance “sometime” during the day or after school is ended, as proposed, I fear for the results.

Last year, the Phillips Scholarship representatives offered after-school help for any students applying for the scholarship. An email was sent to the students, morning announcements were made and sign-up sheets were posted. Only 10 students signed up, seven representatives from the Phillips Trust came after school and only six students showed up. Here was a chance to apply for $5,000, yet only six students showed up after school!

Our students are competing for college space with students from Hamilton, Concord, Wellesley — students with college-educated parents. Our students need that same support. Many parents tell me how thankful they are that their children took the College Bound course. Please give this course another year to run — the students are counting on it. It is premature to eliminate this now.

The course was cut from the program of studies.

After the vote was taken, I spoke again, thanking the mayor and Vice Chairwoman Deborah Amaral for their support. I expressed my deep disappointment stating that the students were the big losers. I addressed the issue raised by the committee that credit should not be given for taking the course. I pointed out that the course meets state standards for technology, math/financial and writing literacy. I also repeated my concern that students were unlikely to attend after school sessions for help.

Upon reflection, I wish that the members of the Curriculum Subcommittee (which met just previous to the regular School Committee meeting that night) had allowed me to discuss the College Bound course with them. I was there but was told I had no right to speak. A compromise might have been reached, and our students would not be the ones to suffer the consequences.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow the College Bound course to continue to be taught by the business department teachers and, in the meantime, the committee could figure out exactly how they want their ideas with guidance to be implemented? We know the College Bound course is extremely valuable. Why jeopardize that success with something that hasn’t even been tested? Why not run the two simultaneously, at least for one year, and see what the results are? Who knows, maybe the students would be best served if both ran all the time. Isn’t it worth a try?

If you support the reinstatement of this course, I strongly urge you to contact School Committee members as soon as possible and ask for reconsideration.

Carol Carr

Business education teacher