Students learn there is life beyond those FCATs

Published March 1, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - It's a classic dilemma for Florida high school administrators.

Half the building - mostly freshmen and sophomores along with their teachers - is tied up with state testing.

What to do with the other half? What sort of curriculum might keep juniors and seniors engaged and out of trouble during the high-stakes FCAT?

Rick Markford, assistant principal at Central High, picked the curriculum of life itself.

For two days this week, while younger students took their tests, he sent upperclassmen to workshops on college, career and community-service options for that vast expanse of time beyond graduation.

"My goal is to plant a seed, that next year or five years or 10 years down the road will sprout," Markford said Tuesday.

Down in the gymnasium, speaker Desh Begley of Monster.com, a business partner of the St. Petersburg Times, urged seniors to develop work plans at college. Those who want to get ahead need top grades during their freshman and sophomore years, when employers recruit interns, she said.

"People say freshmen don't get A's," Begley told the seniors. "I disagree. So Bears, get me some A's."

Over in the auditorium, representatives from local volunteer organizations like the American Cancer Society and United Way told juniors about ways they could help their community.

Families in need can get a home for about $60,000, with labor donated by Habitat for Humanity volunteers, said board president Bob Jillings.

"Much of it is done by old geezers like myself," he added, urging the students to help out. "Ladies get up on the roofs, too."

The juniors and seniors later saw a screening of Invisible Children, a documentary film about Ugandan children who have been displaced and threatened by civil war.

Attendance at Central was off this week among the classes not taking the FCAT, with only about 50 percent of seniors at school Tuesday, Markford said.

But several students who attended said the workshops were a useful reality check on life after high school.

"It just helps remind you that we are going to graduate, and we can make a difference," said senior Courtney Morris, who hopes to become a registered nurse in a neonatal unit. "I definitely can't wait to get out there."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.