The Commonwealth of Virginia and Governor Timothy M. Kaine have for some time been encouraging Virginia Schools high school students to take more rigorous coursework. The Governor recently announced the pilot Commonwealth Scholars Program and promotional campaign to underscore this commitment to excellence in Virginia’s youth.
Eleven divisions within the Virginia schools initially will participate in the new program. The required rigorous coursework goes beyond the minimum graduation requirements for a Standard Diploma, but falls below the college preparation coursework requirements for an Advanced Studies Diploma. Students who complete the core coursework under the Virginia schools program will be recognized as Commonwealth Scholars at graduation and eligible to receive a special diploma seal that recognizes their achievement. Instructional support will be provided to all students who participate.
A two-year, $300,000 State Scholars Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Education funds the Commonwealth Scholars Program. Virginia schools were one of eight states selected in a national competition to participate in the federal grant program.
The Virginia schools divisions were chosen based on their interest in the program and their ability to meet the requirements of the grant. The eleven Virginia schools’ divisions are:
• Albemarle County
• Carroll County
• Chesterfield County
• Henry County
• Lancaster County
• Nottoway County
• Roanoke County
• Scott County
The Virginia Career Education Foundation, a statewide business and education partnership, will lead the Virginia schools initiative. They will work with participating school divisions to develop partnerships with local businesses and to promote the program. Private sector volunteers will be trained to make presentations to the students, focusing on how the rigorous high school courses will improve their post-high school career opportunities.
The Commonwealth Scholars Program is based on a core course of study that includes:
• Four years of English;
• Three years of mathematics — Algebra I and II, and geometry;
• Three years of science — biology, chemistry and physics;
• Three and half years of social studies — selected from United States and Virginia history, world history, geography, economics and financial literacy, United States and Virginia government;
• Two years of health and physical education; and
• Two years of language other than English.
Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between the academic rigor of high school coursework taken and post secondary degree completion. One example is mathematics — 40 percent of students who took Algebra II in high school earned a bachelor’s degree, as compared to only 23 percent of graduates who stopped taking high school mathematics at geometry.
Governor Kaine has confidence that the new Commonwealth Scholars Program will encourage many Virginia schools students to continue onto college after graduation. He has thrown down the gauntlet and issued a challenge to those Virginia schools students who are not on track for an Advanced Studies Diploma. His hope is that they will reach higher and strive to move from competence to excellence.