Robby Lunsford baked applesauce pies. Holly Kirton made photocopies. And Tony Williams fueled small aircraft.
For three weeks during July, these rising ninth-graders and about two dozen others performed simple tasks at local businesses after morning summer school classes through a pilot program run by Fauquier County public schools.
By all accounts--including their own--the unpaid labor taught the students a measure of responsibility and added some variety to their usual summer fare--hanging out. It remains to be seen whether the program will accomplish one of its chief goals, to improve the scores of next year's high school freshmen on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.
"I don't know if it did me any good," said David McNeal, 15, who worked at Fauquier Community Child Care Inc. in Warrenton. "But when I'm at school, I'm bad. When I'm here, I'm good."
McNeal, of Warrenton, is one of hundreds of students in the county who struggled with the tests in the spring. As schools across the state come to grips with the realities of the standards--meant to hold schools accountable for what students learn--it is students like McNeal who will have to make progress.
With initiatives such as the pilot work program, school administrators are trying to to make that happen. By 2007, each school must have a 70 percent passing rate on SOL tests or lose its accreditation.
"It's here already," Associate School Superintendent Rebecca S. Hayes, one of the many educator-architects of the Standards of Learning, said of the anxiety school districts are feeling over anticipated penalties.
County school officials have received the results of this year's tests, but Hayes said the "raw data" had not been properly analyzed for release. She said the complete results would be released at a School Board meeting Aug. 9.
Hayes said the pilot work program is just one of many things Fauquier is experimenting with as it tries to raise scores. She said this initiative, more than any other, was making the direct link between the work world and what happens in the classroom.
Cindy Carter, director of vocational education for Fauquier schools, called the middle school work program a "perfect match" with the standards, because "employment requires basic skills, and we are teaching basic skills derived from academics. That is what the standards are about."
The students volunteered--or were volunteered by their parents--for the program, which was funded this first year almost in its entirety by a four-year, $102,000 state grant. In the coming three years, the proportion of the program paid with the grant money will diminish and local businesses will be asked to make up the difference.
So far, few businesses have donated the type of money that would be needed to run the program in its current form, which included a $200 "scholarship" check given Thursday at an awards luncheon at Lord Fairfax Community College's Fauquier County branch.
The students said that although the SOL tests loom large in their lives, they did not make a direct connection between their performance on the tests and their part-time jobs.
"I don't know if [the job] helped me with that. I failed the math part of it because I didn't like to listen to my teacher," said Holly Kirton, 14, of Warrenton, who worked for Angela Denson, executive director of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce.
Still, Kirton said, the program resulted not only in the extra attention at the schools in the morning but also extra attention at home. "My mom makes me do more stuff now," said Kirton, who will be a freshman at Liberty High School.
Robby Lunsford worked at Stribling Orchard in northern Fauquier for Traci Stribling, who also is an independent candidate for Marshall District supervisor. Lunsford said he had trouble in all aspects of the standards tests and said the time in the classroom and at the job this summer has encouraged him.
Stribling said that she is skeptical of the Standards of Learning tests but that she believes in the goals behind the tests.
"At the university level, you're having students coming in, they can't write English, they can't do simple conversions," she said. "When I had Robby in the kitchen, I'd have him converting cups to quarts and teaspoons to tablespoons."
Tony Williams, 14, of Morrisville, worked for the private contractor who runs the county airport in Midland. He said that the program "really helps" him get motivated for studying but that "it's just not long enough" to have a lasting impact.
Indeed, are the three weeks of the program enough time to make any lasting change in a student?
"I've had the same question. I don't know, but it will be interesting to see," said Lee Land, director of Fauquier Community Child Care, where, in addition to McNeal, Diana Shellington, 14, of Catlett, worked making copies and preparing materials for the day camps run by the nonprofit agency.
Land, a former educator, said it was important for her to do some hand-holding, since it was a breakdown in test performance that landed the students in the program.
"We tried to give them something that they could accomplish," she said of the work she prepared for McNeal and Shellington. "We wanted them to feel good about what they were doing."
She said she noticed a change in McNeal, even in a short three weeks. "He is opening up," she said.
Steven Davis, 14, of Calverton, worked at Compassion Animal Hospital for veterinarian Lisa Gibson. He said the Standards of Learning tests make sense to him, even though he had trouble with them.
"They don't have to change" the tests, he said. "We just need to be better prepared."