Gone, for some, will be the days of senioritis.
Starting this fall, 25 Manassas high school seniors will pile college-level courses onto their plates through a new partnership with George Mason University.
Osbourn High School students will spend three mornings a week at the university's Prince William County campus, learning about interpersonal communications, calculus with business applications, theater, microeconomics and discrete mathematics, among other subjects, alongside college students.
About 15 college freshman- and possibly sophomore-level classes will be available to the Osbourn students. Around lunchtime, the students will return to Osbourn for afternoon courses and activities.
Manassas city schools will pay for the courses, which will cost about $4,000 per student, including tuition, books and transportation to and from the nearby university.
Each student will take three college-level courses per semester under the High School Guest Scholar Program, an initiative completed in March through an affiliation between the city's school system and the 28,000-student university. George Mason officials said this was the first program of its kind for the university.
Last fall, Manassas school officials began discussing the idea, said Sandy Thompson, director of instruction for city schools.
"We saw [this] as a need," Thompson said. "Virginia colleges are getting very competitive. How can we prepare these seniors and better their chances and make sure college is a successful experience?"
In early October, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) unveiled his Senior Year Plus program, designed to prepare students for work or college, while combating senioritis, when students tend to lose focus as graduation nears. Too many students "check out" after being accepted to college or as they reach the final days of high school, Warner said at the time.
Under Warner's program, students can earn up to 15 college credits while they're in high school or receive a semester of community college courses needed to get a specific job.
Manassas approached George Mason officials, who were receptive to the idea from the very start, Thompson said.
Although Warner's program helped turn Manassas school officials' attention to this area, the city's program will not receive any state funding. Leigh Burden, director of finance for city schools, said $100,000 has been budgeted toward the program.
Manassas school officials said they hope the program will provide a seamless transition to college for those students who are up for it. To help in that end, each student will have to take a "transition orientation" course that will cover study skills and college life in general, said Andrew Flagel, George Mason's dean of admissions.
"It's going to shorten the time necessary to complete a degree, which can save money," Thompson said. "I see it as broadening the scope of [student's] curriculum and opportunities at high school, and it will increase their depth of study, . . . which I see as being very beneficial to them."
Manassas school officials chose 25 students from 30 applicants under criteria set out by George Mason. Students with very strong math and English skills and the maturity to take college-level courses were sought, Flagel said.
Requirements included a 3.5 cumulative grade point average, a plan for completing all required high school courses, two letters of recommendation that attest to a student's academic quality and maturity, and a history or English essay with a B-plus grade or higher.
Flagel, who reviewed all the applications, said he was pleased with what he saw. "They certainly were extraordinarily well-qualified," he said. "They met our expectations."
Thompson described the students as overachievers with a diverse set of backgrounds and interests.
"These are very impressive students, very motivated," she said. "They have real impressive academic records and high test scores. They're very bright kids involved in a number of activities."