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Tenth Grade

Sophomore Year: Between Lark and a Hard Place

Elisa Oehrlein, 16, left, Dana Dwyer, 15, Robin Jeffrey, 15, and Elizabeth Frantz, 14, work on biology in a computer lab at River Hill High School in Clarksville.
Elisa Oehrlein, 16, left, Dana Dwyer, 15, Robin Jeffrey, 15, and Elizabeth Frantz, 14, work on biology in a computer lab at River Hill High School in Clarksville. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)

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By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

One in an occasional series looking at learning in the middle and high school years

Social studies teacher Leirdre Galloway won't accept late assignments, strictly enforces classroom rules and demands that her students think for themselves. "I'm going to teach you how to fish," she likes to tell them. "I'm not going to give you fish."

She is tough on her students. She says she has to be.

Galloway teaches 10th grade, a year in which students are asked to take more responsibility for their education and to start preparing seriously for college, educators say.

Once less fraught than the earnest freshman year before it and the intense junior year that follows, 10th grade now pulses with a tension of its own. There are more standardized tests and tougher classes. New social opportunities abound, too -- 16-year-olds get their driver's licenses -- offering the potential for more fun, and more trouble.

"In 10th grade, you are by yourself, expected to be more independent," said Jen Liu, 15, a sophomore at River Hill High School in Clarksville, where Galloway teaches.

Ninth-graders are often welcomed into high school with instructional and other support to smooth the transition from middle school and to help the academically struggling, said River Hill Principal Bill Ryan. But much of that support ends for sophomores.

That means, said Regan Riley, 15, teachers no longer pull kids aside to make sure they understand the assignment.

That means students are given more control over their day; they have more elective courses to select and must figure out what interests them, said Brittany Roe, 15.

And, said Megan Murphy, 15, that means that there is a heavier workload in such classes as English and government and that "a higher thought process" is expected.

Students used to wait until 11th grade to get serious, but not anymore. The competitiveness of college admissions has prompted students to start preparing sooner.

"Definitely college prep starts in 10th grade," said Adam Yalowitz, 17, a junior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. "You start thinking about what classes you will take as a junior and senior because those are classes colleges want to see on your transcript."


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