Area private schools help seniors avoid the slump

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You’ve applied, you’ve been accepted, and now it’s smooth sailing until graduation. Or should it be? While the last part of a student’s senior year of high school can be rife with dances, field days, senior trips and parties, his or her academic performance can’t — and shouldn’t — suffer. A few area schools keep their students engaged with a mix of academic opportunities and life lessons to help evade the siren song of senioritis.

Northridge Preparatory School in Niles offers a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) classes that not only provides an opportunity to receive college credit but also gives, as Bernoli Baello, honors chemistry and AP chemistry teacher at Northridge, said, “a college-level academic experience in a depth and breadth of topics.”

Jerry Shepherd, Northridge Prep director of guidance, said many seniors start focusing on the final AP exams in early May.

“That’s a built-in motivator,” Shepherd said.

Most teachers try to vary their lesson plans to include more interactive or interdisciplinary projects. Shepherd cited an example from Northridge’s AP history class in which seniors work on a group project to prepare a final presentation with a visual element. This year’s topic must fall within 20th century history. In Shepherd’s own AP literature class, seniors are reading “Cyrano de Bergerac,” after which they will view the 1990 French feature film version.

At Fenwick High School in Oak Park, faculty works to give students a sense of personal responsibility for their continued academic success. Richard Borsch, Fenwick’s associate principal for student services, tells his students that studying is akin to training for an athletic endeavor.

“If you’re going to run the Boston Marathon, you don’t train for seven months and then lay off a few weeks before the race,” he said. “It’s the same for getting reading for college. If you’re going to work hard to apply and get in, you can’t rest easy and let your efforts ebb.”

He added that the conversation about college expectations begins once students see their high school transcripts during the college application process and continues after they’ve been accepted.

“We like to say: ‘You’re accepted on the basis of your body of work, including the second semester,’” he said. “Our kids know the drill and know that if you don’t continue your work, you’re going to have some issues.”

This same philosophy holds true for Resurrection High School in Chicago.

“College applications are contingent on graduating with the same academic profile that led to your acceptance,” said Patricia Lawrence, guidance chair and college coordinator at Resurrection.

Lawrence said she tells her students to maintain a full and challenging course schedule while in one’s senior year to stay disciplined and focused. She also pointed out that the school schedules classes on a modified block system, which can help ease the transition to a college schedule.

Above all, students should know that their teachers are looking out for them and understand the stress around this stage in life.

“It’s a scary time for kids,” Borsch said. “They’re aware of the economy.”

He adds: “College is not the guarantee it was a generation ago, but [the students] know how important this next step is.”