Give Pathways a real chance

The Virginia Gazette

People tend to resist change, but when is change a good thing?

In less than two months, one hundred freshmen will walk into Warhill High School, ready to participate in a new pilot program, the Pathways Project. Although the goals of the program seem solid and its innovators are passionate, concerns and misconceptions surrounding its implementation leave much to be answered, including: what kinds of students will it draw; how will it affect other schools; and will it even work?

The main idea behind the Pathways Project is that education needs to prepare students for the 21st century, which current practices fail to do. In this pilot, students will work with teachers and mentors to develop their own paths to the future, paths that might include traditional or college coursework, internships, career certifications, or more. By following their own pathway, students will be prepared for the future they choose, whether it involves attending a university or moving directly into their chosen career. And there are plenty of passionate people prepared to help them forge this path.

The biggest initial concern seems to be that it will draw only a certain subset of the students: bright, privileged children, particularly from its home school zone, Warhill. The concern is that it's the responsibility of parents and teachers to recommend students for gifted and other alternative programs, but these adults are not always knowledgeable in the process for doing so.

These concerns seem valid, since of the more than 100 students who have been accepted into the program, the majority are zoned for Warhill High School. This number does make sense given their proximity, but it raises questions about the program's diversity.

Dr. Jeffrey Carroll, Warhill principal, visited each of the middle schools in the district to discuss the program and its potential impacts with students, counselors and parents. Some county residents may be wary of the pilot because of its novelty, but given the project is a success, the hope would be that more students would be inclined to participate in the future--from all over the district.

Still, some parents and educators are unhappy, asking, "Why Warhill?" Many residents, particularly those in the Lafayette High School zone, feel that money could have been better allocated for the improvement of a school with more needs. But Carroll was the only principal in WJCC to apply for the High School Innovation Planning Grant, which has made the Pathways Project possible. It was not the choice of the school board or Dr. Steven Constantino, to "award" this program to Warhill, but rather Carroll's initiative in seeking improvements for his own school. The program should be viewed as an opportunity for those who may have been lesser served in other zones. As for the future, more good could come from this innovative approach for the other high schools. Both Lafayette and Jamestown have applied for the High School Innovation Planning Grant for the upcoming school year in hopes of forming their own successful pilots.

Any new program is going to come with questions and concerns, and Pathways is no exception. We have to put our faith and trust in those educators from both Warhill and William and Mary in charge of piloting this project. Although the questions being raised are both valid and important, it is vital that we make the students set to embark on their own pathways this fall our top priority. Anything education can do to better prepare students for the world of the future must at least be tried. The Pathways Project is determined to reform education for the better in our 21st century world; so why not give it a chance?

Adkins is a graduate student at the William & Mary School of Education who recently completed student teaching at Lafayette High School. She has not been involved in the Pathways Project.

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