By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
Measured by most standards, the Amity school system is doing what it set out to do, namely to “enable every student to become a lifelong learner and a literate, caring, creative and effective world citizen”. But how do those world citizens feel about their alma mater? Once in college, how do graduates stack up against students from other schools, other states? Did the education they received here help them transition to the next stage of life, whether college or military or other?
That’s what the Board of Education wanted to know, and it commissioned Futuristics Research to find out. A year ago, Futuristics started by contacting graduates of the last five classes, from 2009 to 2013, and asking them not only if they felt prepared for college and/or work, but also how, looking back, they feel about the quality of learning skills they were taught, the academic quality, the teachers and counselors, and about resources such as the library/media center.
Principal Dr. Charles Britton presented the results to the Amity Board of Education at its October meeting. He said some 338 responses came back, which translates to a response rate of about 15 – 20% and overall the responses were positive.
Of the 338 respondents, the vast majority attended a two- or four-year college after leaving Amity, and most (94.2% ) felt better prepared or as well prepared as their peers. Only 5-8% did not feel as well prepared. Graduates of Amity’s higher-level courses (Level 1) felt best prepared, Dr. Britton said, while those in levels 2 and 3 weighed their experience more toward “same or less”.
According to the executive summary of Futuristics report, 57.2% Amity graduates were placed at a higher level course in college or were exempted out of coursework. At the same time, 15% were required to take remedial English and 16.6% remedial math courses in college.
Only five of the respondents did not go to college and assessed their preparation for the world of work. According to the report, these graduates for the most part felt adequately prepared in the areas of communication skills (60%), technical skills (80%), mathematics skills (60%), thinking skills (80%), interpersonal skills (60%) and employment skills (60%).
Life skills: Though well prepared as far as reading, writing, math and technology are concerned, the report points to life skills as an area that could be improved upon. Life skills involve skills such as projecting and keeping track of credit card debt or a mortgage, college loans and making informed consumer decisions. This feedback could potentially inform future curriculum initiatives, Dr. Britton told the board.
Similarly, career and job resources and career explorations and planning services are mentioned as relatively weak. By contrast, alumni rated in-school counseling for course selection and schedule adjustments as being the department’s strong suit. Dr. Britton said the school’s career center, under the direction of Karen Waterman, has seen major growth of its senior internship program. For the last six weeks of their senior year, Amity students have the option to enroll in an internship of their choice instead of attending classes.
Last May and June, some 160 seniors took advantage of that opportunity, while five years ago the program had some 20 or 30 participants. Dr. Britton remembered his own experience being a high school senior, when he attended an internship at a law firm. It was then that he realized that this was not the right career choice for him. Instead, he became an educator. In addition, the school hosts a career fair, offers skills assessments and more to help students decide on a career path.
Extracurricular activities: For the most part alumni felt inspired by the extracurricular activities. Drama, music and athletics rated “extremely favorably,” while publications and student government rated “favorably’.
The one issue that caught the school board’s attention was questions on smoking and drugs. A majority of respondents thought that drugs (63%) and smoking (55.1) were problem areas while they attended Amity High. Dr. Britton did not disagree. “If you ask me ‘is there a drug problem at Amity, a smoking problem, an alcohol problem?’ – Yes, of course there is,” he said in a phone conversation. “The question is, is it worse than at any other public, private or parochial school?” he said, answering his own question with “not that we’re aware of”.
Several board members felt the question was too vague to yield useful information. The questions should have been whether students’ lives were negatively impacted by others smoking or drug habits, said Sheila McCreven, the board’s newest member from Woodbridge. She is serving out the term of Julie Altman who has moved out-of-town.
Dr. Britton said the district is not avoiding the issue. “We’re doing an awful lot to prevent it,” he said. The school deals with the substance abuse with both disciplinary and supportive interventions. Faculty and staff are vigilant and the school has a resource officer to work with them to uphold the law. Teachers and staff also are expected to be compassionate. Psychologists and counselors are available to help students deal with substance abuse issues. “Our message is ‘you’re not a pariah to us, we want you here,’” he said.
Just about a year ago, students were complaining about smoking in the bathrooms, especially after the first batch of outdoor security cameras drove smokers inside. Now surveillance cameras also are indoors, presumably keeping a record of who goes in and out. The administration is swift in reacting to smoking in the bathroom when they become aware of it. “There used to be a problem, Dr. Britton said of the smoking. “No more.”
The Amity School Board was pleased with the survey results. “The board is always looking to glean indicators of how well our students are prepared as they go forward,” board chairman Bill Blake said when asked why the board had commissioned the survey. “There were no tremendous surprises in there, but we don’t want to assume anything.”