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From left, Crystal Woideck, Caitlin Laingen and Katie Thompson are seniors this year at Alconbury High School, RAF Alconbury, England. All three say they will enjoy being seniors, despite the hard work and the expectations.
From left, Crystal Woideck, Caitlin Laingen and Katie Thompson are seniors this year at Alconbury High School, RAF Alconbury, England. All three say they will enjoy being seniors, despite the hard work and the expectations. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

RAF ALCONBURY, England — Teachers and administrators at DODDS schools are guarding against a potentially dangerous malady that appears every year about this time.

“Senioritis” can crush the hopes of the most competent teenager, turning the best-laid plans for the future into dust.

In 2001, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said, “Instead of meeting new challenges in the classroom, too many high school students are drifting through their senior year.”

Brenda Coffield, school transition specialist for the Installation Management Agency-Europe in Heidelberg, Germany, said, “I’ve experienced it in more than one case.”

Coffield, a longtime school counselor who also has experience with Department of Defense Dependents Schools, said seniors who have been admitted to a college decide to coast through their final year of high school. They take easy classes or don’t study for the hard ones.

Suddenly, that college admission that seemed a sure bet has become a long shot.

“They forget. These schools want to see an end of the first semester transcript,” said Coffield in a telephone interview. They’ll also want evidence at the end of the year.

The University of Illinois sends a letter to accepted students warning, “[W]e do rescind admission when our high expectations for our students are compromised by a bad senior year.”

Nadia King, counselor at Alconbury High School at RAF Alconbury, said she lets seniors know that coasting is not advisable.

“I tell them, it has been proven that students who took an easy senior year flunk out of college,” she said.

Tom Smith, principal at Alconbury High School, said, “[Senior] year is the most important year since first grade.”

His school and others in DODDS, he said, ensure there will be no “senior slump.” Long before their final year of high school, students have drawn up a six-year plan that charts their course over that time.

If they stick to that, Smith said, they will have no worries.

Three of the 22 members of the Alconbury class of 2005 said they plan to have fun during their final year of high school, but they realize there is still work to do.

“It’s going to be hard work,” said Crystal Woideck. “I took hard classes. I need to get ready for college.”

Caitlin Laingen said she has most of her requirements behind her and is taking a variety of classes, looking for something that strikes her fancy.

“It’s an experimental year,” she said. “I’m not sure what I want to do in college.”

She wants to enjoy the extracurricular part of high school, she said, but she intends to keep her eye on the prize.

“It’s nice to know that, [after] all the hard work I’ve done, I’m going to have a diploma to show for it,” she said.

Katie Thompson said she knows, too, that being a senior carries a bit more responsibility.

“You feel like you are maturing. I feel like I’m more capable,” she said. “You realize you have to make good decisions because everyone is watching.”

Smith said the senior year is not only important for students with college in their future. The workplace has changed, too, he said, and a good high school education is also needed there.

“The kinds of knowledge that kids need [are] vastly different,” he said.

Coffield agreed with that. She said employers are looking for the same things as college admission officers.

For that reason, she said, the senior year remains a bad time for a student to get lazy.

“You know what I tell them. ‘Look at it like you are practicing for a sport,’” she said. “You wouldn’t take a year off from practice for a sport.”

“You have to continue to practice what you want to be good at.”

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