CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- There was a time when the only coaches on a high school campus were drawing up plays on the football field or basketball court. But most high schools now have graduation coaches, or people who serve in similar capacities, giving seniors an added boost as they seek their diploma.
At Red Bank High, seniors are assigned a Capstone Senior Project, and are expected to go "above and beyond" their normal workload to prepare a comprehensive project, with input from the community. Parental help is strongly discouraged, as is procrastination. "We can tell the difference between a project that is properly researched, and one that is done at the last minute," said teacher Melanie Teter.
Dade County High principal Josh Ingle credited his school's graduation coach Byron Ballard, with keeping seniors on track. "There was a time when a lot of seniors were surprised to learn they wouldn't graduate," Ingle said. "But those instances are becoming few and far between thanks to the programs we've implemented."
Several students we spoke with already had their sights set high on specific colleges or career paths. But they said they were concerned about classmates who are "just riding through senior year." Dade County High senior Bonnie Buffington said, "Some kids just don't care right now. They have the attitude that they're in 12th grade, so they don't need to work." Fellow senior Chandler Gaddis added, "Most of us are 18, and we should be responsible. But there are always some who just don't want to be here, or think the work should be easier this year. In my opinion 12th grade is harder than any other year."
Those feelings were echoed by Red Bank High senior Alice Gilmore. "I don't know why there's a different mindset from some seniors this year," she said. "They just say, it's senior year so I'm done." Senior Teddi Robinson said those students could be in for a surprise. "I know some students who wait way too late to start working on projects that could determine whether they graduate. Some of them are not working hard, and things just start to go down hill."
Teachers say the "senior year is easy" myth may have been a reality in previous generations but not today. "We challenge them," said Red Bank teacher Melanie Teter. "They're going to be challenged in college and in the workforce. They cannot let up now and we cannot let them."
Dade principal Ingle concluded, "The truth is, senior year is too late to change habits and start fixing things. Good work habits need to be taught by parents and teachers many years before 12th grade. We're doing everything we can to tell our incoming freshmen that we expect them to graduate, and with their cooperation we will give them the tools they need to succeed."