Pomp and circumstance will be in short supply this week when more than 50 students at Clay and Langston schools in Arlington will graduate from high school.
Some may meet their counselor at a local pizza parlor for a few laughs and some final good-byes, while others may forego even these modest festivities.
Whether the occasion is modestly garnished with a pepperoni pizza or disregarded altogether, at the end of this week all the students will have earned high school diplomas, despite the lack of formal ceremonies at either schools.
Tradition has given way to need at Clay and Langston, which offer a special program for high school students who, for a variety of reasons, are not in regular high school programs.
One feature of the daytime credit program that sets Clay and Langston apart from other Arlington schools is its accelerated schedule, which consists of three 11-week quarters and one eight-week summer session from September to August. For instance, a student with no high school credits could earn a diploma in 2 1/2 years by going straight through the program. School officials note, however, that few students fall into that category.
And then there is the student body. Many are dropouts, who had records of absenteeism or discipline problems before coming to Clay or Langston. Others are students with financial problems who join the program so they can complete school while continuing to work. And there also are students who lack only one or two credits, and would rather take the accelerated program than spend an entire semester earning those last few credits.
The program is part of Arlington's Adult Education Program and is the brainchild of William Young, director of adult education, and his assistant, George DuBose.
In the late 1960s, both men became concerned by what they considered a growing dropout problem. At the time, they say, about 600 students a year were dropping out of county high schools.
"I went to my boss . . . and said we ought to set up an accelerated program for these new dropouts and potential dropouts," said Young. "And I said we should use some of the abandoned buildings that are now coming available. He said you can have Langston, which was an old elementary school."
The project started at Langston in 1969 with $45,000 in seed money from the county. Officials expected 30 students; 80 showed up.
"We thought we were just filling in a temporary need," said DuBose, "but it didn't work out that way."
The Clay School opened seven years later, and the two programs currently have a $435,211 operating budget.
At both schools, strong emphasis is placed on individual instruction with the aid of smaller classes and longer instruction periods (two hours).
"My goal was to give these kids a second chance to complete their high school education," said Young. "The other goal was not only to complete their high school diploma, but to have a marketable skill when they did. To dangle a carrot in front of this younger generation, I accelerated the program, opened it up like a campus where you could come and go as you please. But once you're on campus, you act like an adult."
The average age of the students is about 17 and they represent a fair cross section of students from the county high schools, according to Dubose.
Gurinder Sekhon, an 18-year-old senior from Yorktown, came to Clay midway through the year to pick a couple of credits after missing too many morning English classes. "My principal told me I could come here to take the two classes and still graduate," said Sekhon, who works five nights a week at a local restaurant. "The teachers are better here; I like their attitude better. They don't make it seem like you have to do it (schoolwork) right then. They leave a lot of it to you."
Towanda Peters, 18, who will graduate this quarter from Langston after attending Yorktown and Wakefield, also had an absenteeism problem.
"I always missed my first period classes and lost all my credits for the year," said Peters. At Langston, teachers "give you attention. Here, if you don't understand something, they come over and try to help you."
Graduating senior Walter Ford spent his last two quarters of high school at Clay to make up English and history credits he had lost for missing classes at Wakefield. Ford works 20 hours a week as a patent researcher for an attorney and plans to go into computer science at Old Dominion this fall.
"There's a fair amount of work here, but you have a fair amount of time to do it," said Ford.
The adminstration of both schools is kept simple--like the program itself. The coordinator-counselor, with the help of a secretary, handles all the work that the loaded title implies.
"If it's a new student, his first time coming into the program, I like to spend a couple of minutes with them just to get a feel for them," said Cleveland James, head of Clay. "And I always ask them, 'How did you hear about the program? Why are you coming to this particular program?' They have been honest in telling me that they had problems they couldn't deal with. Really, I don't get into a probe-type information thing. Only if it's valid."
"Peoples' problems are not gauged between September and June," said David Green, head of Langston since 1969. Students "have the opportunity to take advantage of our program all year. They can start fresh. We're trying to help them to attain goals they already had. We're not in competition with the public schools."
Both schools have dropout rates of about 20 percent, says DuBose, but he says most of those students return within one or two quarters because "there is nowhere else in Arlington County for them to go."