By: Shannon Mann
When you think back on your education there are some things you might have done differently. Maybe you would have shown up to a few more of those 8:00am anthropology classes. Maybe you wouldn’t have tried to take Russian lit and Mandarin Chinese in the same semester. Maybe you would have joined in more clubs or taken the advice of a professor or counselor a bit more seriously.
Thanks to Daniel Casey’s past educational experiences, he’s forging a new path for Neuse Charter School (NCS) seniors. A course that will make sure they are ready for the challenges of a four-year college and life on their own.
Three years ago, Casey with the help of colleague Beth Miller, started NCS’s Senior Seminar Course. Casey, the NCS middle and high school guidance counselor, reflected on his senior year at a nearby Johnston County high school. “I was visiting colleges. I was doing the applications. I had limited contact with my guidance counselor,” he said.
Casey realized the school was big and the resources limited, but the challenge of making life decisions at that age with little guidance had an impact. He saw an opportunity at NCS to ensure the school’s seniors didn’t experience the same thing he did.
“I approached Beth Miller with the idea of a class that helped kids deal with the issues of going to a four-year college,” said Casey. Miller, the high school history teacher, was sold on the idea and brought a multitude of ideas with her as well. In addition, to teaching students about college applications, interviews and locating scholarships, the program also focuses on some important life skills.
“We teach personal finance, balancing a checkbook, credit card debt, how to calculate interest rates,” said Miller. “We show them statistics of college students in debt or that declare bankruptcy.” The instructors also make the seniors do a lesson on laundry, cooking and budgeting.
Miller and Casey said they assign the students a job and a salary. It might be a high-paying job or it might not be, but the reality of paying bills and living within a budget becomes very real, very quickly.
Leighton Richardson, a senior taking the course, appreciates how the class will help him later in life. “Senior Seminar is more than just a course for me, it is like a family that helps each other prepare for not only college, but also things that might help me past college,” he said. “For example, we are not only applying to college, we are also doing things like practicing interviews and discussing things that may occur in a future job, or ways to maintain a future job.”
Before starting the program in the 2013-14 school year, Casey researched other schools to see if anyone had a similar program. There were a few throughout the nation, but none in Johnston County.
The semester-long, elective course focuses on helping seniors preparing to attend four-year schools away from home. While they realize some of the skills may assist students heading toward a community college, they also realize that the chances of those students living at home is a bit higher. Interested participants must have a minimum GPA of a 2.9 and a 19 on their ACT, but exceptions can be made.
“I look at the data now of incoming college freshman and GPAs have risen over the past 10 years,” Casey said. “It is so much more competitive now.”
NCS’s goal is to make sure their seniors are not only getting into competitive colleges, but that they are getting scholarships along with those enrollment offers. “We want you to get the money before any else does,” Casey told the 11 seniors sitting before him recently. “We’re showing you a couple different avenues to find scholarships, but it is up to you to chase them.”
Casey and Miller have a goal for their senior class too…to obtain $1.2 million in scholarships this year. They realize the goal might be short-sighted because thus far the Class of 2016 has $400,000 in scholarships with three quarters left in the school year. Last year’s graduating class garnered $1 million in scholarships and this year’s class is sure to break that ceiling, setting the bar for future classes.
Casey and Miller’s belief in this course and passion for their students is evident. “Mrs. Miller and Mr. Casey have been more than generous with their time in and outside the class, and they are there to help,” Richardson said.
“My greatest fear is to go through all this and them not be successful,” said Casey. With high goals, caring teachers and lots of real-world instruction to prepare them, Neuse Charter seniors are well on their way to success in the coming years.