Getting ready for the real world

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By April Wright, Reporter

Galax High School is helping to prepare juniors and seniors for all the challenges that come with going to college.

Cathy Parks, the school system's reading specialist, told Galax School Board members at last Tuesday's meeting that she wanted to come up with a way to get students to think about the future.

So, she and GHS Principal Bill Sutherland looked through past yearbooks and sought out alumni now attending college. They invited the GHS graduates to speak with high school students about their college experiences.

GHS recently hosted two socials in the school's library for this activity. Students discussed responsibility, time management, study skills, college reading and writing and technology.

“We wanted college students to share their lessons learned and things they feel that Galax can do better to prepare them for success in college,” said Parks. “We're always looking for ways to improve instruction.”

Sutherland said this is one of several ways GHS is helping to prepare students for college.

“One of our past yearbook covers says 'Make the most of it,'” Sutherland told the board. “That's true for students everywhere. We provide some good opportunities, but it's still what they make of it.

“We want Southwest Virginia and Galax students to be well-prepared and ready to compete with the students that come from some of the best schools in the state. We're excited to find ways to move forward and do a better job to prepare students for the future.”

GHS graduates that spoke with high school students represented colleges, such as University of Kentucky, Concord University, University of Virginia, College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech, New York University, Wytheville Community College, Old Dominion University at WCC and Liberty University.

The college students who participated also spoke of their internships. One student is interning with famous TV chef and talk show host Rachael Ray, and some are working with athletic departments at universities, managing sports teams and working in chemistry labs, said Sutherland.

Some grads also discussed with high school students the challenges of paying for tuition and having to hold part- and full-time jobs to make ends meet.

During the social, they discussed developing good study skills. To work toward better study skills, GHS will start a program next school year to teach eighth grade students how to study, improve test scores and how to develop cross-curricular writing and critical thinking skills.

“We want to introduce students to new opportunities they didn't know they could achieve,” said Sutherland. “We hope that what we do here enhances their success.”

These college students have been asked to return to GHS to speak in the spring to students and parents about college life, paying for tuition, filling out financial aid forms and other issues.

“One of the things we asked them is if they felt comfortable with technology when they got to college,” said Parks. “The answer was a unanimous 'yes.' And some of those students are showing their friends how to use technology, such as Microsoft Word.”

Sutherland said students complimented Galax schools' use of technology, such as its lessons on Microsoft Office products, which have prepared them for college.

“College students talked about how they have to read their text books to extract information needed in class,” said Sutherland, about the amount of reading college students are assigned. “That is something we need to do more of in our college level classes.”

Sutherland said he has been in contact with Concord University and Radford University to discuss how GHS can develop college level reading and writing.

“We were very impressed with the students that came to visit,” said Parks.

In other action, school board:

• approved revisions to the 2009-2010 school budget. Galax Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill said sales tax revenue is down $70,000.

“State aid was our salvation,” Sturgill told the board. “It was our saving grace.”

Sturgill said the school system had 19 students more than what was projected, which allowed the school to receive additional state funds than what was originally budgeted.

State aid allowed the system to have a balanced budget, he said.

The 2009-2010 budget changes will have no affect on students, staff or personnel, he said.

• approved revisions to the 2009-2010 school calendar. Due to previous weather related closings during the school year, Galax School Board has made changes to the school calendar.

The following days will now be regularly scheduled school days: March 8 and 9; April 5, 6 and 26; and June 7-11.

Schools will close April 2 for spring break.

These changes address the dates that schools were closed due to bad weather through Feb. 5. School closings that occur after Feb. 5 will be evaluated at a later time.

For now, June 11 is the projected graduation date and students will receive two days of spring break.

• held a public hearing on the 2010-2011 school budget. No comments were heard.

• approved the Special Education Advisory Committee for 2010, which includes Susan Clark, Angela Leonard, Sally Hill, Rhonda Hall, Frances Turpin, Karen Goad and Joan Weaver.

• heard from Sturgill about the GHS renovation project.

The school has had continuous problems with the windows leaking. Sturgill said he met with the window manufacturer, engineers and the construction team to discuss problems with leaking windows.

Sturgill noted a couple of months ago that the seal pan in the windows could be defective. To fix the problem, foam will be inserted into the seal pan. The windows are still under warranty.

Sturgill also thanked GHS staff for shoveling snow and preparing schools to open during the winter snow storms.

And, he said, students also have participated in various activities during Black History Month.

• recognized and presented a certificate to Kara Graham for School Board Clerk Appreciation Month.

• recognized and presented certificates and gifts to school board members Raymond Kohl, Dr. Jim Adams, Helen Kyle, Donna Garland and Stewart Merdian in honor of School Board Appreciation Month.

“We truly believe we have the best board in Virginia,” Sutherland told the board. “We appreciate what you do.”

• approved overnight trips.