Archive | February, 2011

Drawn by history

AHS senior Jalisa Taylor was drawn to Texas South University by the school’s rich tradition as a historically black college. In this video, she shares her reasons for choosing the school and her excitement about the future. Click on the headline to view the video by Rossi McFadden.

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District budget woes cut deep

By Dakota Wasson/J-Line Writer ~

The Texas budget crisis hit home this week when about 350 Humble ISD teachers on a first-year probationary contract found out that their contracts may not be renewed at the end of the school year.

More than 30 Atascocita High School teachers were told Thursday that Superintendent Guy M. Sconzo would recommend not renewing their contracts. The announcement came during an after-school meeting marked by tears, grim faces, and shock.

The non-renewals are a result of an expected $31 million gap in Humble ISD — one of the many Texas districts facing money troubles because of a $27 billion state budget shortfall.

To balance the budget, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Republican leaders in the Legislature have introduced bills to reduce education spending, according to a Feb. 14 article in the New York Times.  The cuts represent the largest budget cuts to public education since World War II, according to the New York Times article.

Each of the AHS teachers whose contract may not be renewed received a letter from Sconzo that read in part, “Humble I.S.D. will be facing the most devastating local budget deficit we have ever experienced … Unfortunately, preparing for the worst must include staffing reductions in all levels and in all functions in our district.”

The Humble ISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on Sconzo’s recommendation on March 29.

Humble ISD will have to reduce staffing by about 580 positions, according to a Feb. 7 letter from Sconzo to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.  In the letter, Sconzo outlined the possible impact of the staff reductions, including boosting high school teaching loads to as many as 220 students, “virtually eliminating” arts education electives, reducing coaches, and nearly doubling the loads of counselors and school nurses.

In addition, teachers will likely go from teaching five-period work days to teaching six out of seven periods with one conference period.

 “This level of reductions will result in taking leaps backwards in all we have tried to do to further student learning,” Sconzo says in the letter.

Worry about the budget cuts has been hanging over AHS for weeks, as teachers  wondered whether they would be losing their jobs or feared that some programs will be eliminated.

“I am concerned that our AG/FFA program could lose some funding that is important to our operations and travel,” said AHS Agricultural teacher and FFA staff Traci Hendrix.

The overwhelming task of having larger classes and more students also concerns teachers. Science rooms, meant to hold 24 students, are already holding 30 or more students without budget cuts and teacher reductions, according to dual credit chemistry teacher James Simms.

“Larger classes lead to more discipline problems, make it harder to work with struggling students, and make it harder to teach overall,” said Simms. “In science, larger classes are going to create a much greater chance of an accident happening.”

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“A learning experience that feeds the mind and soul”

By Kaley Consford/J-Line Writer ~

Tap, tap, tap, tap tap, tap is all you hear as nervous students drum their pencils on their desks, wipe their sweaty palms on their jeans, and gnaw at their already chewed down fingernails.

These are AP students subjected to the stress of preparing for college.

Stress is a common factor when students introduce themselves to the college lifestyle. The massive amount of work required and the expectations raised can often cause college students to be unsuccessful. This is why numerous schools offer more advanced and rigorous courses known as Advanced Placement, or AP, which help students prepare better for the future.

The opportunity to be better prepared for college, and to reduce the stress for students has been shown to be beneficial. According to the  New York Times, the emotional health of college freshmen who felt stressed by the pressures of high school has declined to the lowest level since in 25 years.

Ashley LaFleur, an Atascocita High School senior who takes three AP Dual classes, is one of the many students who believe that college preparation classes are extremely advantageous.

“Even though my classes are hard and take up all of my free time, I feel like they’re better preparing me for college, and that I have a good understanding of what is expected of me,” said LaFleur.

More and more students are already starting to plan ahead at a young age in order to ensure that their future in college will be successful. According to the University of California at Santa Barbara, nine out of every 10 U.S. high school sophomores intend to pursue post-secondary education.

Mallory Everett, an AHS freshman who plans to take AP next year, is one of the students trying to prepare themselves for the future of college.

“It’s really hard to think about college already,” said Everett. “But in reality it’s really close, which makes every student really competitive.”

The competition to be accepted to college and the requirements needed to be considered for admission has created renewed reasons for most sophomores to take AP classes.

“I chose to take World Humanities, which includes Pre-AP English and AP History, so that it would challenge me, and help me face and adapt to the struggles there will be in college,” said Everett

AHS teacher Sharon Finley, who teaches AP-Dual Credit English Literature and Composition, knows firsthand the qualities that students must have to succeed in an AP-Dual Credit class, and what the consequences are if students are not prepared.

“Only students who are willing to work should take an AP/dual credit class,” said Finley. “The classes are rigorous and do require time and effort; students unwilling to commit the required time and effort will be unhappy, frustrated, and stressed.” 

AP classes help increase the chance of having a successful college career in the future, said Finley.

“I hope my students feel that every day is a learning experience that feeds the mind and soul,” said Finley, “I hope my students are better thinkers, better students, and better people for our time and it is a privilege to work with AP/dual credit students.  I know it, and I never forget it.”

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AHS sophomores: World History pioneers

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~

From freshman in high school to freshman in college.

This is the jump some incoming sophomores, who want a challenge, will have to take.

In the past, AHS offered two different levels of World History in 10th grade: Pre-AP, a preparation class for college-level courses or on-level, a less rigorous course. Next year, there will no longer be Pre-AP, just AP and on-level. A class called World Humanities, which combines English II Pre-AP and AP World History, will also be offered.

“The purpose of the AP World History course is to develop greater understanding of the evolution of global processes and contacts, in interaction with different types of human societies,” states a description of AP World History from the College Board website.

The College Board is an organization that was started in 1900 to provide students with an easier transition from high school to college, according to the College Board website.

AP World History won’t be like any other social studies class students have taken, said Jennifer Dunn, ninth grade World Geography teacher. The teachers will be expecting a lot more from the students, including a more analytical thinking style. This is just one of the ways AP classes prepare students for college.

The AP program, which has been around since 1955, is geared towards helping high school students gain college-level skills. These college-level courses are offered in a friendlier high school setting. In many cases, students also receive college credit for each AP course they take, according to the College Board website.

The program offers 35 different courses from United States History, the program’s most popular, to Chinese Language and Culture, according to College Board: AP Central. Each course has its own guidelines, which are written and published by the College Board.

AP classes can be intimidating and not having the option to take Pre-AP World History is leaving many students with a hard decision about which level they should take, said AHS World Geography teachers. Some students feel that the outside work involved with an AP class is not worth the time and effort, while others are looking forward to the challenge.

“I am looking forward to taking AP World History because I feel it will be a good challenge without the cost of college,” said Haley Pocock, an AHS freshman.

The school’s ninth graders got a taste of what AP World History would be like when Wyatt Bingham, an AHS World Humanities teacher, gave a presentation about the course in February.

Bingham talked about the course curriculum and the detail entailed by an AP World History course. He also mentioned that students would do more analytical thinking, which will involve more than simply memorizing facts. The subject of “how much work?” sparked a conversation regarding the increased workload for students, including outside work during the summer.

Pocock has already made her commitment to taking AP World History next year, but is also applying for World Humanities. She feels this is just one more way she can gain on the competition for college.

Brittney Leone, also an AHS freshman, has different plans for next year. She has not completely decided, but is leaning towards taking on-level World History.

“It’s not just memorization; you have to really understand the concepts,” said Leone.

She is worried about the more conceptual and analytical thinking that goes along with a college-level class.

This brings up the question, “Are 10th graders too young to be taking college level class?” For some students and teachers, the answer is yes.

“I think most sophomores are too young for college-level classes,” said Dunn, “I think many are mentally capable, but it also takes a lot of maturity to dedicate yourself to an academic class and put forth the effort a college-level class requires.”

This is not the first time this issue has come up. Schools around the country are starting to prepare students for college at a much younger age. Two schools in Arlington County, Virginia have already started offering AP World History to their freshmen, according to a January 28 Washington Post article.

The opportunity to take higher level classes in high school is becoming more readily available to students as the years progress. The number of students taking AP exams has nearly doubled since 2001, according to the College Board’s annual AP report released in February.

Even though Humble ISD has been offering AP classes for many years, AHS will be the only school offering AP World History to its sophomores next year.

“Our school district superintendent has challenged us to provide our students with a more rigorous education, and AHS is meeting the challenge,” said Dunn.

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Counselors help steer path to future

By Alex Rynearson/J-Line Writer ~

College. It’s a big deal that can jumpstart the rest of someone’s life. But often, high school seniors need sorting through the issues and choices leading to higher education.

Counselors can be a crucial source of help in clearing the path to college.

When students come and sit down in the counselor’s office, they get one-on-one time deciding what they are going to do about their college career, said Tye Hobbs, Red House 1 counselor at Atascocita High School.

The counselors help students by giving them a series of steps to get ready for college, said Hobbs. With these steps, a senior can continue the process of transformation from high school to college.

The first step in getting ready for college is to research on the top three colleges that the senior would like to go to, said Hobbs. By picking three colleges, the students has two more options to get into a college if one choice does not accept their application.

“The first college is the one that the student really wants to got to, the second college is if they can’t get into college number one, then they have a backup,” said Hobbs.  “But college number three is in case they can’t get into one or two, then they can absolutely get into number three.”

After the senior has done research on the colleges of their choice, they can go back to the counselor and  figure out what they need to do for step number two, which is find out if they want to attend a two-year college or a four-year university, said Hobbs.

When that is all done, the counselor talks to the student about the options of attending a small community college with 50 students in a class or going straight to a  big university with 150 students in each class, said Hobbs.

The next step is to decide whether the senior wants to stay in Houston or Texas. If they decide to leave the state, they need to consider which state they would like to go to, said Hobbs.

Then comes the search for appropriate loans for the senior or scholarships.

“After we have already figured everything else out, we then pull out a book called the ‘Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation’, which is a book that shows all the important information on each college,” said Hobbs. “’Minnie Stevens Piper’ shows us what the SAT and ACT scores need to be to get into a college, what classes the senior has to have completed before they graduate and how the senior can apply to the college; along with a list of questions that are frequently asked.”

The counselors also host a senior conference in the middle of the fall semester that provides the senior class with more information.

 “At the senior conference, we tell them what they need to know about graduation from high school, financial aid for college, and lots of other information about college,” said Janet Graczyk, AHS Red House 2 counselor.

 Seniors also have to get mentally prepared because they know that they were at the top of the totem pole in high school, but now they are going to be right back at the bottom again.

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The college advantage

By Edgar Galvan/J-Line Writer ~

For some high school students, college is a necessity. For others, it is just a waste of time.

However, research has shown that getting a degree can pay off in many different ways. According to the Digest of Education Statistics, people who get a degree have better opportunities in their future lives. Studies showed students with only a high school diploma earned an average of $12,585 less than a college graduate. 

 “I used to think that college was for everybody. I think that if you have that knowledge, it is important that you go to college,” said Sylvia Guillory, a teacher at Atascocita High School. “College allowed me to change careers and also allowed me to start out my work with a high paying job.”

There are many other reasons to get a degree.

College graduates will get higher pay and a better position at a job compared to someone who just has a high school diploma, according to the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter, an education research organization.

 A person holding a bachelor’s degree will earn $1.6 million more than a person with only a high school diploma during their lifetime, the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter found.        

“College gives an opportunity to broaden someone’s career,” said Jacqueline Morrow, Gold 2 Counselor at Atascocita High School. “There is a push for students to go to college because if a student were to get a degree, they would make so much more money in life.”

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Passion for sports paves road to college

By Ariel Reyna/J-Line Writer ~

High school sports can be fun, tough, and exciting. They can also help you get a scholarship for college.

Most high school athletes would love to get a scholarship for their sport, and be able to play college-level sports. But many are not aware of how to earn a scholarship or the steps to reaching their goal.

“I grew up playing soccer, I always loved it and knew that I wanted to keep playing after high school, for as long as I could, at the highest level I could,” said Jonatan Torres, a freshman at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Torres, who got a soccer scholarship for that university, graduated from Atascocita High School.

The first step in figuring out how to get a scholarship is figuring out if an athlete really wants to play in college. They have to ask themselves the important questions: Am I really passionate about the sport I play? Am I going to miss it if I stop playing? Am I willing to be dedicated on nothing but that sport while I’m in college?

After the student has taken the first mental step, they have to take the first physical step.

“The first step I took in the process was talking to my club trainer. He let me know exactly what the whole process was and what I was allowed to do and what I was not allowed to do,” said Kelsi Brown, a freshman at Sam Houston State University, who also earned a scholarship for soccer and graduated from Atascocita High School. “I then made a list of all the colleges that I was interested in.”

According to College Sports Scholarships, it is never too early to start the process of trying to get noticed.

As a freshman, athletes should join a club or some kind of organization to play that sport outside of school and try to rack up community service hours

In sophomore year, students should start writing a list of colleges they are interested in attending, then write an introduction letter to the coaches, telling them about records and accomplishments.

After September 1 of a student’s junior year, college coaches are legally allowed to approach students. If the coaches do not start contacting the student right away, the athletes should keep trying to contact them by e-mail, phone calls, or regular mail as often as possible.

“Through e-mail, it was towards the end of my first semester junior year. On the phone, it was at the very end of my junior year,” Torres said, referring to the contacts with coaches.

Senior year is the last step is to choose which college is the best to go to; this decision depends on the offers the colleges have given, or if it’s the student’s dream college.

This is also one of the most difficult decisions to make.

“At first I was committed to play at Western Carolina University, but then later I decided to play at Sam Houston State University because I realized I didn’t want to be so far away from home,” said Brown. “Some of the main things I would look at in a college to determine if I wanted to go there was the location of the school, the academics and if I liked the coach and the team.”

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Three schools, many choices

By Jordan Anholt/J-Line Writer ~

Long before the valedictorians give the final words of their speeches, students begin to hear “Pomp and Circumstance” in their heads, and instantly know that the next step will be heading to college.

With so many colleges to choose from, what things should a student look for in a school? Price? Location? Tourist attractions? What draws people to a college?

Here’s a look at three of Texas’s most popular schools and what they offer:

Lone Star College-Kingwood

Lone Star College-Kingwood is located in Humble, Texas, just outside of Houston. Lone Star, where costs for a non-resident run an estimated $13,670 for one year, boasts of its affordability.

“We’re close to home. We’re affordable. We want you to succeed.”

That slogan appears on Lone Star College’s website. Roycelyn Bastian-Spencer, a media relations coordinator for LSC-Kingwood listed the top priorities of Lone Star College system:

  •  Affordable tuition
  • Flexible Class schedule
  • Free tutoring
  • Convenient location
  • Student-based Activities

Lone Star’s website says that if students start out at their college, advisors can help students apply to go to a university of their choice. Financial aid advisors also give out scholarships, grants, loans, and more.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M is located in College Station, between Houston and Austin. The one-year costs for a resident would be $20,614 and a nonresident would be $35,914.

“Students have a wealth of opportunity to pursue their lifelong career goals.”

This is stated as part of the mission statement on the Texas A&M website.

According to the Texas A&M website, the top five reasons to choose the school are:

  • Best college for getting a job and earning money
  • A leader in research
  • Extraordinary character
  • Over 120 undergraduate degree programs
  • Over 130 years of tradition

Texas A&M is known for its tourist attractions. It is home to George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, along with other museums and art galleries. It has a Memorial Student Center with a Visual Art Center, an Arena, Golf course, Theatre complex, Kyle field, box offices, outdoor sculptures, and a James Earl statue.

Texas A&M also has had speakers such as President Barack Obama, secretary of defense and former president of Texas A&M, Robert Gates, former President George W. Bush and former president George H.W. Bush.

The school’s website notes that, “In 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Texas A&M University first in the nation among public universities.”

University Of Texas-Austin

The University Of Texas-Austin is located at the center of downtown Austin, which draws many students to the school, and the one-year costs for a non-resident are about $36,100.

“To transform lives for the benefit of society.”

This quote appears on University of Texas-Austin’s website. According to Patrick Abbott, a senior administrative associate, and the UT website, these are some of the top qualities of UT.

  • Signature course program (allows students to be in smaller classes taught by tenured professors which other schools don’t have)
  • Honors program for freshmen
  • Austin is the third best city in the country to find a job
  •  Variety of programs geared towards freshmen
  • University Of Texas Police Department

Since it is located in the state capital, UT-Austin has many attractions, including the Life Science Library, the Harry Ransom center, which has the world’s first photograph, the Blanton Museum of Art, the Ruth Stephen Poetry Collection, a Courtyard Gallery, Bass Concert Hall, and the Brockett Theatre.

“It’s true that not every Texas Ex in the world is famous, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there changing the world,” the UT-Austin website states.

A student view

Madisun Geis, a senior from Dayton High School who is looking at UT-Austin because it is in the middle of a big city, says the top qualities she considers are:

  • Location
  • Communications school
  • A good football team
  • Size, a large university
  • Affordability

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Learning where “we” come from

By Rossi McFadden/J-Line Writer ~

Atascocita High School football coach Al Smith’s first choice was not to go to a historically black college, but he changed his mind after half a semester at Texas Christian University. Smith, who wanted to move from his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, transferred to Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college.

It was one of the best decisions of his life.

HBCU’s are known for giving students a chance to “learn more about where “we” come from,” said Smith, who also pledged the black fraternity “Kappa.”

The U.S Department of Education defines HBCU’s as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.”

The first black college — The Institute for Colored Youth — was started by the Quakers in Philadelphia in the 1830s to educate black Americans. Even though there were some colleges open to blacks in the north, black colleges were not an option in the south until after the Civil War, according to a College View article on HBCU’s.

“I believe black colleges will prepare me better than other colleges and gives me an extra step,” said Brianna Ledet, an 11th grader at Atascocita High School. Most of her family are nurses and pharmacist technicians who went to Prairie View A&M.

However, not all students believe that going to an HBCU benefits black students, according to a ranking in U.S News and World Report. Most students believe they can learn more by going to a diverse college due to the different backgrounds of students.

“It’s better to get diversity learning,” said Jalisa Taylor, a 12th grader at AHS, whose first choice was to attend a private and multicultural college.

In the end, Taylor chose Texas Southern University, an HBCU. Taylor said she looked for a college that offered a solid education; TSU’s history and tradition as a historically black college was a “bonus.”

“HBCU’s are a good choice for anybody, if you’re purple, red, orange or burnt, doesn’t matter,” said Ledet, an aspiring nurse who hopes to go to Prairie View A&M.


Click on the Video tab to see Jalisa Taylor talk about her decision to go to Texas Southern University.

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Advancing through AVID

By Ashley Vance/J-Line Writer ~

It all started in California in 1980 as a program for high school students who need a little bit of help with their academic classes.

Advancement Via Individual Determination, better known as AVID, helps students who are taking Advanced Placement or Pre-AP courses. Atascocita High School’s AVID program currently has 150 students, said David Duez, the AHS AVID director.

AVID is “for students who are academically in the middle,” said Sally Wagner, a teacher at AHS.

AVID, which started 31 years ago in California, now operates in about 4,500 schools. More than 90 percent of AVID students enroll in college, and 74 percent are accepted by four-year schools, according to the organization’s website.

Under the AVID program, students have tutoring twice a week with college students who help students with questions they have about academic classes. It’s mandatory that students bring questions to these sessions, said Duez.

 AVID students are also required to have an AVID binder, which must be kept clean and organized. Serious consequences can take place if students don’t follow the requirement, including dismissal from the program, according to information Duez gives to his students.

The AVID class is like a second family for the students, said AHS teacher Jill Davison. The teachers want to students to bond, said Davison, who likes the AVID students to call her “Momma D.”

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A $10,000 challenge

By Mikaela Wall/J-Line Writer ~

It was a bold challenge.

In his State of the State address on February 8, Gov. Rick Perry called on all Texas universities to develop a bachelor’s degree costing no more than $10,000, books included.

“Education is the most important long-term investment a state can make in its people,” Perry said in a February 4 letter to Texas regents. “Now more than ever, we must deliver a higher education efficiently to ensure that a rising generation of students earn the degrees and other attainments that will allow them and their families to prosper.”

According to the College Board, most college students attending four-year colleges pay between $9,000 and $35,000 a year for tuition and fees.

In an article in The Texas Tribune, college committee members said they believe that Perry’s challenge will be met with opposition from small community colleges who offer cheap two-year degrees, and from big colleges that want to protect their good names.

The challenge also comes at a time when many community colleges and public universities are expecting huge cuts in state funding. Under the current budget proposal, funding for public colleges and universities in Texas would be cut by 9.5 percent.

Some colleges are already offering a $10,000 bachelor’s degrees in some areas, but eight semesters’ worth of brand-new textbooks could add up to $4,000, which exceeds Perry’s $10,000 limit.

In Perry’s letter, the governor also noted that Texas colleges have experienced a huge growth in enrollment number over the last two years, but college prices have gone up.

“It’s now more important than ever to seek more cost-efficient options to increase accessibility and affordability of higher education.” Catherine Frazier, Perry’s Deputy Press Secretary said in an email. “Gov. Perry is challenging Texas higher education institutions to find innovative ways to accomplish that goal so that Texas can maintain a skilled and competitive workforce. We owe it to our citizens to explore all of our options and the governor looks forward to seeing the ideas that will be brought forth.”

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Less study, better results?

By Kelli Hinojosa/J-Line Writer ~

Students may actually do better on tests by studying less.

According to Science, a website where scientific research is published, a recent study showed that students who study through retrieval practice — or reading the review or study guide once, then taking a practice test — actually do better on tests than students who take more time studying for a test.

 How is this possible?

“They must know the material well,” said Lourdes Sanchez, a freshman at Atascocita High School.

According to the study by Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt, students who study by retrieval testing have better gains in learning than students who study more.

With this information, should students still study more?

“Each student studies differently,” said Holly Krause, an Algebra 1 teacher at AHS. “Students who pay attention more in class don’t really need to study a lot, but students who don’t really understand the information should study more.”

In the experiment by Karpicke and Blunt, students were put into four groups. One group studied for about five minutes, another group did four study sessions for five minutes each, the third group did concept mapping or students arranging information into a diagram or chart, and the last group studied through retrieval practice test based on their memory from an essay they studied.

The research showed that students who use retrieval testing to study get better results on tests.

“Students don’t really study, but do well because they remember the information better than others,” said Sanchez.

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