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JACKSON, Mo. -- With only a day left before the final draft of an essay due in his college writing class, Doug Ludwig changed the topic of his paper.
But the change made Ludwig, a senior at Jackson Senior High School, much happier with his work. "It's the third topic for my paper," he said, with a bit of a grin. His title is "Hillbilly Superstars," and the paper examines the work of two country music artists.
In just a short time, Ludwig has written a rough draft, revision and handed copies to a classmate for a peer review.
Brandy Goggin, seated next to Ludwig in Terri Fisher-Reed's college writing course, still struggles with her paper. She's having difficulty finding a focus in her assignment, an evaluation essay.
While students still find time for sports, cheerleading and after-school activities, today's high schoolers have fewer opportunities to slack. The demands of high school -- ACT tests, college entrance essays and applications and projects and assignments for class -- are great and choosing a career path begins early.
Six career paths
The Jackson school district is in the midst of creating a career pathways plan for students that could let them decide on six different career interests as early as eighth grade and then follow the course of that path into high school and beyond.
For some students, the key is to choose the most academic-driven track even if they aren't certain of their plans after high school, said counselor Pat Bratton. If they do that, then they'll have a better curriculum than if they'd chosen another path and switched late to an academic track, she added.
"We want them to make the right choices for classes and prepare them for whatever they might want to do," said counselor Sarah Nussbaum.
About 60 percent of the student body heads to college -- primarily the University of Missouri at Columbia and Southeast Missouri State University.
Students file into the counselor's office during their five-minute break between classes, asking for help filling out an application or asking for an appointment to talk about college entrance essays.
Those that don't head off to the counselors' offices hang out with friends in the hallways outside their classrooms.
The hallway outside Jean Gibb's classroom is fairly quiet as students head from one class to another, lugging heavy backpacks with them. Gibbs teaches physics and students enter the classroom and begin preparing for another in a series of lab assignments.
The 22 students have been working labs in clusters so that every group gets a chance to use the equipment that measures velocity, equilibrium, forces and acceleration due to gravity.
Erin Hartmann, Chris Robertson and Jonathan Lorenz test the acceleration due to gravity using a spark timer. A strip of paper was attached to a weighted metal clip. The students released the paper, and as it fell to the ground the spark timer made dots along the strip. Using the space between the dots, the students measured time to find the velocity.
As the first semester winds to an end Friday, students are feeling overwhelmed. There's plenty to be done by mid-December. Scholarship deadlines come before year's end, so most students fill out those applications either in handwriting or online, which is fast becoming the preferred method.
Nussbaum said counselors try to talk to students early in their sophomore year so they know better what to expect from high school. By their junior year, she's advising students to take the ACT college entrance exam and start making campus visits during the summer. Early in the first semester of the senior year, students begin making plans for college, military careers or technical schools.
Online campus tours and Web sites help keep parents connected to the college search also, Nussbaum said. Workshops on choosing colleges and financial aid also are offered by the counseling office. The school is considering a semester course for next year that would offer practical help to students trying to determine which is the best college and how to get accepted.
335-6611, extension 126