College students speak

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2010

South Panola High graduate Ellen Farrish (left) reacts to a story of college life told by fellow graduate Alyssa Boren. Students returned to their Alma Mater October 22 to discuss how the school prepared them for a secondary education. The Panolian photo by Myra Bean

College students invited back for how-did-we-do discussion

By Billy Davis

It is the college life, untold in books and movies.

It is the wake-up call, on the first morning in your first class, when you realize life has changed. After mostly coasting through high school, you realize you have to study, and study hard, or face a failing grade. Or worse.

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There is the wish, made too late, to take the ACT earlier, and again and again, to improve your score.  

South Panola High graduates made such observations and several others last week, when they returned to their Alma Mater October 22 at the invitation of first-year principal Jay Foster.

Foster told The Panolian he was seeking feedback from recent graduates to better prepare the 1,200 students who are coming behind them.

The graduates’ comments and suggestions are already being discussed among department heads at the high school, he further explained.

Preparing students for college should be a no-brainer at South Panola High, where guidance counselors estimate that 65 percent of graduating seniors pursue a higher education.

Fifty percent of SPHS graduates will begin classes at a two-year community college, where they can earn an associate’s degree or complete basic courses before pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

 Another 15 percent of South Panola graduates will begin their freshman year at a four-year university.

Twenty-four graduates were contacted and 11 of them, in two separate meetings, shared their views at a roundtable discussion in the school library.

Retired longtime teacher Kaye Smythe led the discussion, encouraging dialogue with questions about tests and studying, scholarships, and advice for future graduates.

South Panola High got mixed reviews from the graduates, who let the compliments and complaints fly at the afternoon meeting.  

“I love our counselors, but we needed more one-on-one with them,” said Johnny Cummings, a 2009 graduate.

“Did you feel you got enough information about scholarships?” Smythe asked.

“No, ma’am,” Cummings answered.

Several students observed that upper-level courses helped prepare them for rigorous courses in college, especially at a four-year university.

South Panola High offers eight upper-level courses, called advanced placement or “AP” classes, in calculus, physics, English literature and composition, English language composition, world history, U.S. history, Spanish and government.

Ashleigh Austin, a pharmacy major at Ole Miss, said physics “was a breeze” after she took Sara Blaylock’s AP Physics class at South Panola High.

She said a Chemistry II class, taught by P.R. Roberts, helped prepare her for organic chemistry.

“I used my old notes from Mr. Robert’s class,” Austin said.

Other students complimented the high school for training them to write, and more than one singled out English teacher Josh Quong for preparing them.

After taking Accelerated English and AP English, “I was set,” said Holly Pearson, a Mississippi State student and 2008 graduate.

Several students told Smythe they regret being under-prepared for the ACT, the American College Test.  

The multiple-choice test is used for college eligibility and, more importantly, for sought-after scholarships. High school students, at the earliest, typically take the test during their junior year.  

Smythe, after hearing the grumbling, pointed out that South Panola High now has a class dedicated to readying students for the ACT.

Foster, in fact, has told school board members that ACT preparation is among his biggest priorities for South Panola students.

In more general comments about college life, the students urged high schoolers to be prepared to handle freedom and responsibility. That responsibility includes going to class and making time to study, they said.

“Time, and how you spend it, is huge,” said Alyssa Boren, a 2009 graduate who attends Itawamba Community College.

“All of the tests – they come at the same time,” Boren added, drawing laughter and nods around the table.

“You learn really quick,” said Austin, “that the teachers quit babying you.”

South Panola graduates who participated in the morning discussion were Kristy Burns, David Dulin, Grant Goforth, and Nicholas Franklin.

Graduates who participated in the afternoon discussion were Alyssa Boren, Johnny Cummings, Carly Manning, Ashleigh Austin, Ellen Farrish, Danielle Ivy and Holly Pearson.