by Nancy Coleman
Because we home educate, Chelsea's first semester at CGS was a challenge for all of us. We had never had our schedule dictated by someone outside of our home, Chelsea had never been in a classroom of peers on a daily basis, and I had to adjust to not being her teacher.
Because we had provided lengthy deadlines for schoolwork and projects since Chelsea was in middle school, she did not struggle with the "here is your assignment and it is due in two weeks" syndrome like most of the other kids, but she did struggle with the typical "new kid" status.
The application process begins in the late fall to early winter. We called the Governor's School office and requested the application. Chelsea completed it, attached a resume and a paper she had submitted for one of her classes, and I and another teacher wrote recommendations. She then made an appointment for a personal interview. We received the acceptance letter in the late spring.
We had dutifully contemplated the pros and cons of the program prior to applying. We were concerned about preserving family time, the isolation Chelsea might feel by being the only one away from the family every day, as well as how well she would fit in with the other kids since she was previously home educated. On the positive side, Chelsea thrives on challenge, and we believed this program would provide exactly what she needed. We also appreciated the fact that the same teachers remain with the students for all four years of the program. That continuity makes the program stronger.
The reality of the pros and cons was interesting. Chelsea was challenged academically and did excel. She graduated third in her class and was a finalist for the Jefferson Scholarship at UVA. Voted senior class president, she was successful with her peers. The continuity of the teaching staff was indeed a positive aspect of the program, and the teachers took an active role in the students' lives. These teachers were amazing instructors and they truly cared about the students.
The negatives of the program were a bit more unexpected. The science program at the Stafford location, in my opinion, proved to be the weakest link in that the teacher turnover rate was high. Also, if there was a personality conflict with a teacher, that teacher was part of the child's life for four years. That can be a very long time for all parties involved. Also, the Governor's School students are separated from the mainstream high school for the four core classes and then integrate to their home high school for their three electives. This tends to create an "us-them" mentality that the CGS kids must work to overcome. Many of the Governor's School students participate in extracurricular activities which help to bridge that gap.
While I remain unconvinced that all of the homework assigned was essential to the understanding of the material, the teachers have to justify the weighted grade the AP courses receive. While all students can take AP courses, the Governor's School students have more AP courses available to them. Most colleges that accept AP classes require a 3 or better in order for the student to receive college credit. Out of the 11 AP tests she took, she received college credits for 9 plus credit for the one dual enrollment. Those particular classes completely satisfied the general education courses that she would have otherwise had to take and resulted in Chelsea's opportunity to graduate from UVA in three years instead of four which significantly reduced the cost of college. She participated in extracurricular sports and activities while in high school, but the time for those activities added additional pressure to a very tight schedule. She had a minimum of six hours of homework every night; thus her first all nighter was in her first year of high school. Important to note is that not all colleges, such as Princeton, accept AP or dual enrollment credits.
When asked, Chelsea stated that CGS provided opportunities that would not have otherwise been available. It gave her confidence, academic competition, and the tools she needed to excel at college. She was even able to intern with the Commonwealth Attorney's office one summer. When she went to UVA, she stated that it was actually easier for her than the classes at CGS. Was it worth the sacrifices she made while in high school? She thinks so.
High school students today are encouraged to have extensive resumes and gpa's greater than 4.0 when submitting their college applications. The pressure to outperform their classmates is extremely high. CGS gives them the tools they need; the program is very successful at launching students into the next stage of their academic lives. Although the teachers are excellent, be aware that the price includes a heavy workload, some isolation from the rest of the family, and significant academic challenge.