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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Preparing High School Seniors for College, Part One

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

Here, in California, another school year has finally dipped into the cool, blue Pacific. I've been reflecting on all that we've accomplished this year, including the fact that more than 90 percent of our graduating seniors will be going to college. I also can't help but think about everything that goes into the rite of passage that is graduation at Envision Schools.

Before students ever walk down the isle or throw their hats in the air, seniors gear up for their culminating defense: a public presentation of the College Success Portfolio. Students must defend their best high school work before an audience of parents and peers. Unless this work is completed, presented, and defended acceptably, a student will not graduate.

Seniors at Envision Schools work harder in the last six weeks than they do in their entire four years of school. Teachers work side by side with students, often staying late into the night, and hosting weekend sessions in their homes to get kids prepared for the graduation defense.

The completed College Success Portfolio can also serve as a pinnacle of a teacher's career, as many of them witness not only the academic growth of their students but also the transformation from childhood to adulthood.

This is in sharp contrast to the typical senioritis experienced by most students, who often burn out by January, much to the chagrin of their teachers. Instead, the students' mental muscles are primed and ready for college in the fall, unlike so many college freshmen who struggle in their first year.

Much of our collective success hinges on standards that are clear, selective, challenging, and attainable -- and that kids have four years to achieve. Former graduates from our schools often share with current students that completing the College Success Portfolio was more difficult than their first year of college. This project builds confidence for their next important milestone: college graduation and beyond.

Exactly how we prepare kids for college at Envision Schools will be the subject of my blog posts over the next several weeks as all of us reflect, regroup, and gear up for the coming school year.

Has your school used high-stakes assessments similar to the College Success Portfolio? What are your thoughts and ideas about the use of a culminating project such as this? Please share.

This is the first part of a two-part blog entry. Read part two.

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