Summer break for this year’s high school graduates is quickly coming to a close, as many young men and women embark on the next phase of their education: going off to college. While much of that activity centers on making sure that you have the correct size sheets for dorm beds, enough electronic equipment to stay in touch with family and friends, and parental reminders about the importance of doing laundry, it also is appropriate to reflect on how well a Fairfax County public school education prepares one for college.
Both of our daughters have reminded me that being in Girl Scouts and graduating from Fairfax County public schools prepared them well for those first years away from home in a congregate living atmosphere. But they both graduated in the 1990s. What’s it like today? A conversation with a 2009 Annandale High School graduate reveals that our exceptional high school system will prepare high school seniors for what lies beyond the confinements of a Fairfax County education.
The point of high school, Aya Saed says, “is to allow children to individually grow into adults, while at the same time ensuring that they can be educated and well-respected members of society.” Although high school tasks can be arduous, Aya told me that she feels prepared to explore what college has in store and she is optimistic about the life she will lead. Aya took many Advanced Placement courses, and was just notified that she will receive her International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma in January. Citing a feeling of pleasure in her accomplishments, Aya said that she is “…thankful for all the knowledge I was exposed to because it allowed my mind to wonder and made me a more erudite individual.”
Aya went on to note that she now is more confident with her ideas, and respectful of those who do not share her values. “Extracurricular activities are crucial to gaining the best high school experience and encourage students to become more engaged in their community,” she said. Establishing trusted “relationships with favorite teachers allows teenagers to become accustomed to the relationships they will need to develop in the future,” Aya added.
I first met Aya in the midst of her junior year when she and I both received diversity leadership awards from the Annandale-Springfield Chapter of the American Association of University Women. Each year, the AAUW chapter recognizes students from four local high schools for their volunteer contributions to celebrating the diversity of our community and achieving greater understanding between and among cultures. Aya impressed me with her bright, inquisitive nature, and her work ethic. Before long, I offered a part-time internship in my county office, which continued all through her senior year, and into this summer. We will miss Aya when she leaves for the University of Pennsylvania next month, but know that she is well-prepared for college life.
Aya’s maturity at such a young age is reflected in her comments about the end of high school and the beginning of college. “By the time seniors walk across the stage to finally receive their diplomas,” she said, “it becomes clear to them that high school was a small journey that is one of the many in their young lives. You can call it the first test of life, one that allows you to explore your thoughts and beliefs in a secure environment. And while graduates always feel as though a huge weight has been lifted during this time of year, completing high school is only the beginning. The real quest starts now.”
To Aya, and all newly-minted college students: congratulations and good luck. As Aya told me, “every member of the Fairfax County Class of 2009 has a chance at grabbing a piece of the world.”