Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program 2014 scholars selected

Mia Zanzucchi

Five West Jessamine High School students have been selected as Kentucky Governor’s Scholars, an immersive five-week college preparatory program. Students live on one of three college campuses in Kentucky and participate in small group seminars, volunteer work and more.

Monica Alden, Nicole Fielder, Emerson James, Shawn Murphy and Jesse Seales are West Jessamine’s five Governor’s Scholars. For some, GSP will be an opportunity to “network with future leaders,” as Fielder, who hopes to attend Vanderbilt University next fall, said. Others, like Murphy, will take this opportunity to see firsthand what college is like.

Rising juniors who are interested in the Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP) should contact the guidance office this coming fall for application and selection information.

From left to right: Jesse Seales, Nicole Fielder, Emerson James, Monica Alden and Shawn Murphy

From left to right: Jesse Seales, Nicole Fielder, Emerson James, Monica Alden and Shawn Murphy

West Jessamine revamps graduation for class of 2014

Mia Zanzucchi

Graduation for the West Jessamine High School class of 2014 will be on June 6 (recently set as the final day of school and a half day) at Southland Christian Church in Nicholasville, Ky. starting at 4 p.m.

After a series of issues, debates, surveys and opinions, the Jessamine County School Board settled on keeping Southland as the Jessamine County graduation venue for both East and West. The board had earlier determined that, based on a survey given to graduating students, a ticketing system at Southland would be better than moving the ceremonies to Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Each graduating student will receive eight tickets to be distributed among friends and family. Students who need less than eight will be asked to send any extras back so that students who need more may request so on a case by case basis, according to newly appointed WJHS principal Dr. Wells.

A mandatory three hours graduation rehearsal will be held during the week of the June 6 ceremony – “no show, no walk,” as Dr. Wells puts it.

Last year, the decision was made to cease class rankings and, inherently, the more traditional Valedictorian and Salutatorian speeches. This year, three West Jessamine High School seniors will speak at graduation as well as two representatives from the senior student council and several administrators on the school and county level.

Any graduating student with a 3.0 or higher grade point average (GPA), no more than five unexcused absences and no more than one office referral was invited to submit one paragraph outlining their potential speech and why they felt they should be one of the three speakers. A combination of senior student council representatives and school board members will discuss and choose three of the nine candidates.

The idea to have students submit proposals to speak at graduation was decided by both students and administrators, according to student council adviser and 12th grade English teacher Mr. Blake. Mr. Blake also said he hopes that this will become a regular process.

The class of 2014 will also see a new honor being added to the previously existing three Latin Honors. Egregia Cum Laude, or “with outstanding praise” in Latin, will recognize students achieving a 4.5 or higher GPA over all four years of high school. The idea of adding this Latin honor to the already existing system was suggested by the school board. According to Jessamine County Schools Superintendent Kathy Fields, since East Jessamine High School does not award pre-AP points for calculating GPA, it is currently not feasible for EJHS to integrate Egregia Cum Laude into their graduation ceremony. This new honor has nothing to do with the ending of class rankings, according to Superintendent Fields.

Achieving a 4.5 GPA isn’t easy. For the class of 2014, regular-level courses and electives are weighted “normally” with an A in the course represented by a 4, a B as a 3 and so on. Accelerated classes add another 0.5 points and Advanced Placement (AP) courses are one full point higher: an A in an AP class will translate as a 5, a B as a 4 and so on. However, the Jessamine County School Board recently decided to reexamine all school GPA and ranking policies, so the policy could potentially change for later classes. Regardless of GPA policies, students honored as Egregia Cum Laude will have had to combine almost perfect grades with a rigorous class schedule.

Graduates will be notified of their Latin honor standing when final senior grades are posted the week before graduation.

Level of Honor GPA Constraints
Cum Laude “with honor” 3.500 – 3.749
Magna Cum Laude “with great honor” 3.750 – 4.099
Summa Cum Laude “with highest honor” 4.100 – 4.499
Egregia Cum Laude “with outstanding praise” 4.500 or higher

Students will learn more about these new changes to graduation at a senior meeting on Wednesday, May 7 at 11:30, where the three class speakers will also be announced, according to Senior Class President Daniel Sherfey.

Dr. Wells addressing the class of 2013 at graduation last June

Dr. Wells addressing the class of 2013 at graduation last June

Dr. Wells selected as new principal

Bradley Phelps

The new principal of West Jessamine High School has been chosen from a field of 20 applicants. Current assistant principal Dr. Scott Wells will take over after 2013-2014 interim principal Mr. Ken Cox at the end of the school year.

Over the past few months, West’s site-based decision-making (SBDM) council has been conducting focus groups with parents, students, and teachers, collecting a wide range of information and opinions about what West needs in a new principal. Of the 20 applicants, only four were selected for interviews with our SBDM council, which occurred on March 5. The announcement of Wells for the position came on the morning of March 6.

Wells will be taking the place of current interim principal Ken Cox. The need for a one-year interim arose from the finalization of former principal Ed Jones’ demotion not happening until after the start of the 2013-2014 school year. Wells will begin his new role on July 1, 2014, and it is still undecided who will take his place as assistant principal.
Wells is a member of the Jessamine County High School class of 1981 and, after working in Florida for 20 years, returned to West to serve as a guidance counselor for a year and then as assistant principal for seven. Barring unusual circumstances, he has said that he “hopes to work at West until retirement.”

Regarding Wells’ short-term goals for when he becomes principal, he hopes to have a school-wide standards-based grading policy put in place by the beginning of next school year. Standards-based classes, operating on the concept of students being able to relearn material and retake assessments until mastery of learning standards has been reached, have been used by a few West teachers on a somewhat independent basis, but Wells would like to see this method of learning in every class.

Additional goals are to see a 0.5-point improvement in the school’s average ACT score, the addition of school wrestling and bass fishing teams (given student interest) and expansion of the arts programs, ideally allowing more opportunities for our bands and choirs to perform at various venues.

Wells also feels that West is approaching the point of being able to support an International Baccalaureate (IB) program concurrently with our already strong AP program and tentatively hopes to begin that process in 3-5 years.

Commenting on the daily aspects of being a school administrator, Wells stated that he “loves to be out and about interacting with students,” and looks forward to performing his duties as the new principal.

Academic team finishes season at state

Grace Rose

The West Jessamine Academic Team recently competed in the region 11 competition. The quick-recall team beat Scott County 45-17 and then Western Hills 33-13 in their first two rounds of competition. They then went on to defeat Woodford County 36-15, but ultimately lost to Dunbar in the finals. Nevertheless, the team finished in the top two in the region and was able to punch their ticket to the state competition. West also had six individuals move onto state for their written assessments.

At state, the quick recall team lost the first round, won the second and lost the third. Although faced with a loss at state, the academic team deserves congratulations, as it is a huge accomplishment to even make it to state.

Congratulations to team members Monica Alden, Cale Canter Jerod Crockett, Jed Chew, Jonah Dixon, Noah Dixon, Abbi Donelson, Nicole Fielder, Clay Fugate, David Fugate, Stephen Goodlett, Young Koh, David Lee, Shawn Murphy, Joseph Oaks and Amanda Settles.

The West Jessamine academic team at state Photo courtesy of Nicole Fielder

The West Jessamine academic team at state
Photo courtesy of Nicole Fielder

Assessing assessments

Joe Bandy

One of the biggest challenges teens face these days is the mental and sometimes physical stress brought on by testing and the pressures it entails. No matter the class, there is some form of assessment wherein you perform a task that the teacher has (supposedly) already taught you to do.

It seems fairly straightforward and simple, yet it is something that is torturing our generation and not going unnoticed. Schools are implementing systems like Standards Based Grading to help relieve some of the stress brought on by these tests.

But even if those are implemented, you still have standardized tests like the ACT and AP exams and the SAT given out by the College Board. Why do these stress us out? There are many factors, but there are three reasons that I believe to be the most prevalent and stressful:

1) Time: America is one of the few countries that actually puts a time limit on tests. Other than the fact that this teaches horrible problem solving (we’re told if we don’t know a problem, skip it) it adds unnecessary stress to tests. Why should the time in which you can solve a problem reflect your ability to do so?

2) Exaggeration: we are frequently told either directly or indirectly that certain tests like the ACT or even an AP exam are extremely important and that they’re the end all be all. If you don’t do well, you will automatically work at a fast food restaurant for the rest of your life. If you don’t get one point higher this time, you won’t make it into any college. This is how I look at it: if a college is only going to look at me based on a single number as if that accurately represents who I am, I don’t even want to go there. Many may disagree with me on this, but just know other factors play into college like essays and GPA.

3) “Success”: all too often, I think this how many students see their scales on tests:
Success: 100-92; 
Failure: 00-91
Or something like that where they have a fine line drawn in their heads where, if they don’t get a certain number or above, they failed. What’s worse is that these thoughts are encouraged either directly or indirectly by teachers, peers and even parents. We get too caught up in the numbers we’re judged by and not the things we’re learning.

The bottom line is this: most tests you take, in all reality, hold minimal significance. If you’re going to worry about something, worry about this: are you learning? Or are you just shoving content down your throat to regurgitate it on tests? If you’re doing the latter, you’re doing it wrong. We have the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in this state for free. If you were to bring a child to America and put them in school, their concern would not be their grade. Their concern would be learning as much as they could each and every day and enjoying it. That is what you should be striving for. If you do that, the grades will follow.

Common Application, uncommon problems

Mia Zanzucchi

So far this year, senior English teacher Ms. Brinkerhoff has had 12 students ask for teacher recommendations through the Common App. When she first tried submitting recommendations, she was asked whether or not her students were ranked. No matter which option she chose, the page wouldn’t go through.

“I don’t mind doing them,” Ms. Brinkerhoff said. “I just can’t get in.”

Ms. Brinkerhoff is now in the process of submitting recommendations for those 12 students by email and snail mail.

She isn’t alone. For several West Jessamine seniors and teachers and all three counselors, applying to college and filling out recommendations means battling the Common Application’s technical glitches.

According to statements released on the Common Application Facebook page, technical glitches across the world have included final submission errors, incorrect formatting when pasting essays, slow performance across the board, login issues for both applicants and recommenders, Help Center shutdowns, not being able to save application information, general issues through the Google Chrome web browser and delayed application fee payments.

Senior Abbey Bowe applied early to several schools, but when she tried to submit her applications, one of the schools didn’t receive any of her information even though the Common Application said it had been submitted. Her recommending teachers had to send letters by post and her counselor tried to submit information for her application at least eight times.

Even though the number of applicants, counselors and teachers filling out the Common App has steadily increased every year since the 2008-2009 school year, Common App launched a new format, called the “4th generation online system,” on Aug. 1 of this year.

Director of Guidance Ms. Heady said that several of her students “disappeared” from the Common App website when the 4th generation was released. Sections were filled out and then wiped, and after the information was submitted, nothing went through.

After contacting Common App, the guidance department was advised to have students resubmit their counselor and to update programs like Java, Adobe, Flash and their Internet browsers.

“It seemed to take forever,” Ms. Heady said. “Of course I wanted an easy, quick fix, and it wasn’t as quick as I wanted it to be.”

The Common App’s technical issues caused some of their 517 member schools with Early Decision (binding) and Early Action (non-binding) to postpone deadlines.

“We fussed, but kept updating,” Ms. Heady said. “It’s all to make it easier for students. If students are still experiencing problems with the Common App, they should come see their counselor.”

For your consideration…

Catherine Graham

Choosing a college is arguably one of the most important decisions any of us make – it really does determine how the rest of your life will turn out. Therefore, we should probably be taking it pretty seriously. Sorry for all of you out there who wanted to pick your school based on its winning sports teams or super cute colors! Now, you may be wondering what a real reason to commit to a college is. It definitely varies by person, but some reasons are pretty universal, so here are a few, in no particular order, for your careful consideration:

A school’s reputation – You want to go somewhere that you can get a respectable degree. Look for a college that specializes in something you’re interested in career-wise. For example, if you want to be a doctor or a nurse, and then consider a bigger university like a state school versus a small, liberal arts college since a bigger school is more likely to have a large, up-to-date hospital and lab facilities on campus.  Or maybe even consider a more prestigious school, like an Ivy League, for grad school. A Harvard PhD sounds pretty impressive, and the connections you make at these fancy universities can send you straight from the classroom to Wall Street.

Affordability – Sorry to get practical here, but cost should be one of the first things you consider in picking a school. Look for places where you can get big scholarships without taking loans out. So if you play a sport but maybe aren’t Division-1, consider a Division-2 or 3 school where they’ll pay your way through four years to play for them. A walk-on basketball player at a major university like UK could be a full-ride, star player at a smaller school like Georgetown College. Maybe even consider a work-study school like Berea so you can help pay your own way through school and not be stuck with student debts for the next decade.

Location – College “shopping” is kind of like real estate in the fact that location can really be key. You need to think long and hard about whether or not you really want a seven-hour plane ride when you want to come home. Location is the difference between seeing your family and friends every other weekend or once a year at Christmas. Also, in-state schools will have cheaper rated than public out-of-state schools, so that may factor in to your choice as well. Remember, if you plan to go on past a 4-year degree anyways, an in-state undergrad degree can save you a lot of money to put toward grad school. Plus, you can get that “far away” experience through study-abroad for a less committed, more exotic approach to picking your college location. If you love being that far away, maybe transfer out of state (or even out of the country) then or choose a foreign grad program.

College Corner: October

Catherine Graham 

Just a little more college-centered advice for you guys as we head into the fall semester (since I know you just don’t get enough at school anyways…)

Freshmen and sophomores – Start taking standardized tests early. All of the math you need for the ACT is through Algebra II, and many of you are already there. The more practice you get, the better you will do on standardized tests. If you start now, you can chill out by junior or senior year while the rest of your friends are freaking out about their scores for the first time.

Juniors – Pick up a Governor’s Scholars Program and/or Governor’s School for the Arts application from the guidance office. These are both time-consuming and in-depth, so even though they aren’t due until January (for GSP) ad February (for GSA), you need to start now.

Seniors – The perfect way to learn more about a college with no commitment is… a college fair! So head to local events hosted by almost any university you could possibly want to attend. Fairs and meet-and-greets are all over Lexington and Louisville; everywhere from UK and WKU to Yale and Harvard have representatives in town at some point and they host informational sessions that let you get to know their schools without ever having to visit. This can be really helpful for out-of-state universities. Some of these events are pretty fun too, with t-shirts and the occasional free dinner. If there’s a school you’re really interested in, go to their website and see when they’ll be in our area.

Standards based grading, the hero we need

Joe Bandy

The Standards Based Grading (SBG) system has been implemented in many classrooms this year and will be school wide by next year.  The system has spread like wildfire through other schools and states. To get a grasp of the student body’s opinion on it, a poll was conducted with some interesting results. Roughly 60% of the students who took the survey didn’t approve of SBG. But of those students, very few gave logical reasoning for why they disapproved, some opting out of the response, many stating they simply didn’t like the change, one comparing it to communism, and one going so far as to use language deemed too inappropriate for this publication when describing how much it sucked.

So why do people really hate it? Many say they don’t like the whole idea of retaking tests. But the school is here to give us an education, and if a student does all the work but doesn’t totally grasp all of the standards and wants to retake it, why should we say no? Granted, we shouldn’t reward students with poor work ethic, but the system doesn’t allow those kids retakes while still helping the ones who truly need the retake.

“Some students, myself included, have really bad test anxiety,” one student response said. “Therefore, tests aren’t necessarily a very accurate way to judge a student’s knowledge.”

This is exactly what SBG is fighting for. One can argue some of the material we learn in school can be used in the real world, but no one will ever be able to say taking tests prepares us for anything. Sure, you get tested in the real world, but not like you do in school. Tests are unnecessary, inaccurate and stressful ways of assessing students. SBG, simply put, wants every kid who wants to learn material and get good grades to be able to achieve that.

When researching for this, I came across an article written by a teacher that explains how helpful SBG is for teachers. They stated how, when looking in the grade book, you really couldn’t tell how well a student was doing. One may have zeros on all assignments but 100’s on all tests or vice versa. Look at the sample grade book below and see which one you think helps a teacher more:

SBG

Since all students are assessed on a 1-4 scale that can be translated into phrases like proficient and partial proficient, a teacher can see exactly which student needs help where.

In conclusion, SBG is not the monster many students imagine – almost want – it to be. It is in fact a well-structured system that helps student to learn to their maximum capacities and assists teachers when specifying where a student is lacking. So instead of immediate rejection I encourage the student body to relax and give utilize this tool and who knows, you may learn a thing or two.

Can’t afford Yale or Princeton? QuestBridge is the solution!

Olivia Mohr

The best students should go to the best colleges and universities, right? Thanks to the non-profit organization QuestBridge, bright, motivated students with a strong work ethic can go to some of the nation’s best colleges, which they normally would not be able to afford.

QuestBridge has 35 top-ranked partner colleges, giving students many options and enabling them to attend the college of their dreams, which before would seem financially out of reach.

High school seniors can apply to the National College Match, which has incredible opportunities and benefits for outstanding students to attend the nation’s best (and most expensive) colleges and universities. Students may be able to receive full four-year scholarships with no loans. This is an amazing opportunity because, let’s face it, college is expensive.

Though the deadline for seniors has passed for this year, there is a junior program that is due in March 2014. The online application is free and opens mid-February. The junior program, which is the College Prep Scholarship program, has many benefits.

Through the College Prep Scholarship program, about 40 junior applicants will receive full scholarships to top-notch college summer programs where they can take college-level courses while staying in a dormitory. They can get a taste of college and see what life is like beyond high school.

The College Prep program also offers individualized college admissions counseling to 60 juniors who will be paired with a member of QuestBridge’s staff or a current Quest Scholar college student. They will be provided with personalized college admissions counseling through phone and e-mail.

Yet another possible benefit of this program is its college admissions conferences. Over 2,000 students will be invited to one of these QuestBridge conferences where participants will attend workshops on how to apply successfully to leading colleges and on the college application process.

For more information on QuestBridge and its programs, visit QuestBridge.org!