Polk County preparing students for life
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Oct 20, 2013 | 1196 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kiwanis 10-20
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Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG RACHEL LOWE, school counselor at Polk County High School, speaks to members of the Kiwanis Club about how her school has been working to increase students’ test scores and encourage them to consider things like attending college.
Rachel Lowe, school counselor at Polk County High School, said the school has been making new efforts to ensure students are prepared for whatever comes after high school.

Speaking at a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland on Thursday, she shared how the school’s staff members have been trying to help students increase their college entrance exam scores and be more prepared for college classes.

She said high school graduates have been facing more and more scrutiny from employers.

“A lot of them are saying our high school graduates are not prepared,” Lowe said.

As a measure of being able to judge how a graduate might perform on the job, she said more and more employers are asking about things like ACT college entrance exam scores that test students on math, English and science.

She used the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga as an example. Those desiring to join the company’s Volkswagen Academy training program are required to earn a score of 19 out of a possible 36.

The score of 19 is also the threshold for many scholarships at community colleges, she said. However, many colleges have higher requirements for scholarships.

According to figures compiled by the creators of the test last year, the average score for a student in Tennessee was 19.7.

Lowe said Polk County High School has been trying to stress the importance of the exam and get more students to think about what types of jobs they want to do and what education it takes to get there.

In addition to missed college scholarship opportunities, she said low ACT scores can indicate a larger problem. Students may not be prepared for the rigors of college courses. She referenced a statistic that said 40 percent of college students in the United States need remedial classes during their first years of college. This is not just in an Ivy League setting; some students remain unprepared for community college courses.

Existing tests in place called the Explore and Plan tests allow administrators to see how students perform before they take the ACT, and Lowe said they have been paying more attention to the results.

“We saw ... we needed early interventions for them,” she said. “We need to start working with them in ninth grade before it gets too late.” 

Lowe said teachers have been working to better prepare students to excel in the subjects in which they struggle.

To get the ACT exam on the minds of students, the school has also introduced an “ACT Word of the Day” that is announced and written on classroom boards to help expand students’ vocabularies to prepare for what is on the exam.

In addition, the school has added to its slate of career and technical education programs covering elective subjects like agriculture, computer science, business and health science. Students currently have 13 different programs to choose from, she said.

All the while, the school has been encouraging the idea of having plans for a college education or career made before graduation day — but not without challenges.

“Our school has a special set of needs,” Lowe said.

She explained that many of the school’s students live in rural areas farther away from where many jobs are, and some students making the decision to attend college find themselves being the first in their families to do so.

What has worked well for Polk County has been hosting more events to walk both students and parents through the processes of taking college entrance exams, applying to colleges and looking for financial aid funding.

In the past, the school has hosted a “Financial Aid Night” in conjunction with a meeting of the Parent Teacher Association to walk to explain how to navigate the process of filling out forms to apply for federal financial aid.

Another event the school has hosted is “College Application Day.” Representatives from eight different college attended the last event and helped students who had been learning about how to apply for college complete their applications. At the same time, some colleges waived their applications to cut down on the cost to students.

Lowe said 60 percent of the senior class took that day as an opportunity to apply for college.

Since the ACT exam in not currently offered in Polk County, the school also offers bus rides to other schools like Bradley Central High School so students can take in on national testing dates.

Also at the meeting, Kiwanians made plans to participate in various events, including one that would allow them to show their support for the Key Club at Cleveland High School.

One member also accepted an award in the place of another who could not attend meetings due to personal issues.

Immediate past president Chris Newton presented the “Legion of Honor” award to Kathy Austin, who was accepting it on behalf of Fred Whisman to honor his having been involved with Kiwanis for 40 years.