Changing ‘the Game’ at WPHS
The rock band Queen had a hit single in 1980 called “Play the Game,” and playing the game is exactly what you have to do at Wheeling Park High School if you want to compete for valedictorian or salutatorian or even finish ranked in the top 10 in the graduating class.
Principal Amy Minch spoke at the Ohio County Board of Education meeting about her proposal to change the rules of “the game.” Well, not exactly: She spoke about getting rid of class rankings, valedictorians, salutatorians, and honor class electives all because the educrats cannot come up with a better plan to address “the game.”
Let’s first address what “the game” is at Wheeling Park. To have any real chance at valedictorian or a top class ranking, students have to make specific choices and take certain actions before even reaching high school. Here are the rules of the game as I best understand them:
1) You must take Spanish in middle school, so you can take Spanish Honors as a freshman. No other foreign language course of study has this option. You want to take French? You already have fallen behind.
2) Speaking of honors classes, a student has to figure out how to have as many honors classes on their schedule as possible to the exclusion of any other classes. An “A” in an Honors class (and AP class) is worth a 5.0 as compared to a 4.0 for a non-honors class. For example, students are required to take two semesters of health classes as a graduation requirement, typically a non-honors class; however, if you are in the know, there is an online health class which can be taken for an honors credit.
3) If you choose to take a music, strings, chorus or band class, you have to take it pass/fail because these are non-honors classes. If you choose to take more than one music course in a semester, forget it; you have already lost. The same rules apply to all the course offerings in the arts.
4) You can’t take a lunch. Those who take a lunch period are missing the opportunity to add an honors class credit to their schedule each semester and boosting their GPA accordingly. To play “the game” you have to eat in class.
5) Under no circumstances can you make a “B” in a class. This should go without saying, but when most, if not all, of your top peers make all “A’s,” a “B” in a single class moves you out of the top 10, maybe even the top 20. For safety, take Honors Chemistry rather than AP Chemistry because they are worth the same 5.0, but one is so much more rigorous.
6) You can’t take gym at school. Gym classes are non-honors, but if you take gym in the summer from a community college, you can boost your GPA by having two additional semesters of honors classes because you freed up your gym period by taking those summer classes.
7) Interested in speech and debate? Well that introductory course is a non-honors double period class; you better make sure you don’t take any other elective which is non-honors for the next three years, or you are out of “the game.”
8) Find out how to get zero hour honors classes. Zero hour classes are those offered at school before the school day even begins. You think arriving at school at 7:15 a.m. is early? To be valedictorian, plan on showing up at 6:30 a.m. or earlier.
9) Last, you have to find out every on-line class available for honors credit. Skipping lunch is not enough. Taking zero hour courses is not enough. You have to take even more classes outside of school along with your normal course schedule if you want to make the top 10 or aspire even higher.
Seriously, God bless the select few kids who go through all this for a chance to speak at the graduation ceremony. I am not sure this process identifies the best and the brightest, but it sure as heck identifies the gunners of the world. Park provides a great outlet for the ultra-ambitious. However, we can also see how this process creates an uneven playing field and forces students to make choices which may not reflect true academic interests in order to avoid lower class ranks.
Now back to Minch’s proposal — no more class ranks, no more extra points for honor class electives (we are no longer even go to call them honors classes), and no more valedictorians. I assume the speaker at graduation will be drawn from a hat or will be the one who picks the long rose like they do at homecoming. We are coming perilously close to the everyone gets a trophy mentality. Minch said she discussed these changes with admissions offices at West Liberty University and West Virginia University because that’s where most Park students go. That’s great, but these two fine schools also have a non-competitive admissions process. How about talking to admissions offices at just a couple of selective schools to find out how these changes will affect the admission prospects of Park’s top students because that is really the only people affected by these changes.
I do not fault officials with Ohio County Schools for trying to change the ludicrous rules of “the game;” however, I am not sure the throwing the baby out with the bathwater is the right approach either. It is too often that when thinking outside the box is required, those embedded in an entrenched system can’t see the forest through the trees. This proposal to change “the game” is a good starting point, but serious consideration needs to be given to how the new proposal will negatively impact Park’s top students in the college admissions process and put them at an unintended disadvantage.