The Blair PTSA unanimously passed a proposal on Feb. 17 for a revised eligibility policy, which it hopes to pilot for all Downcounty Consortium (DCC) freshmen as soon as possible. The proposal is currently circulating around other DCC PTSAs to garner support.
If MCPS approves the program, failing DCC freshmen would be placed on provisional eligibility status for one marking period instead of being declared completely ineligible. During this time, a student would be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities so long as he agreed to a variety of academic support measures, including study hall and one-on-one tutoring.
The proposal is in response to concerns about the current policy, which requires students to have at least a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) and no more than one failing grade in order to be eligible for activities.
Currently, 26 percent of Blair freshmen are ineligible for extracurricular activities (see "Revamped," below).
Board of Education (BOE) candidate and former PTSA President Valerie Ervin said that though the current policy was originally well-meaning, it has become obsolete and has had some "unintentional effects." As the policy sought to help students improve their grades by forcing them to focus on studies, alienating them from sports and clubs has had the reverse effect.
Once students are shut out from school activities, Ervin continued, they become isolated from the school. "Once you close the door on extracurriculars, you are in effect saying to those children, ‘You don't belong,'" she said.
Ervin and BOE President Sharon Cox included their support for the proposal in their campaign platforms. "I really applaud the Blair High School PTSA for taking a bold step forward with this initiative," said Ervin.
Freshman Shante Henderson, who was deemed academically ineligible to play on the softball team, praised the proposal. "I think it would be really helpful. Sometimes you get off to a rocky start, and you just need to get yourself together," she said.
The pilot would be successful if implemented, said PTSA Co-President Fran Rothstein, because it would be a step toward changing the underlying philosophy of eligibility. "I think most people respond better to incentive than punishment. You know, the carrot rather than the stick," she said.
The policy is a part of an ongoing effort to battle the rise of gangs in Montgomery County, Ervin said. She will participate in discussions with the County Council's new gang task force about how after-school activities could help curb gang activity.
However, some Blair coaches have questioned the value of what might be considered lowering the standard of performance. "I don't even think a 2.0 is that difficult to get. Why are we making this even easier?" soccer and lacrosse coach Robert Gibb asked. "When you come to high school, academics are your priority. If you can't even manage a 2.0, you have no business committing yourself to practice every day after school."
The proposal, critics added, may only help a certain cross-section of failing students who are willing to sacrifice for one specific activity and who have parents willing to take a proactive stance in their children's education. In its current form, the plan leaves logistics wide open to discussion.
The PTSA has received concerns about budget implications resulting from hiring tutors or funding weekend study sessions. Rothstein said the proposal is in a relatively early stage in the process of being approved and that it is still unknown when and to whom the proposal will be presented in MCPS. She hopes to gain the support of other DCC schools in the immediate future.
Einstein High School PTSA president Michelle Turner was optimistic about her school's probable response to the proposal. "This is worth a shot," she said.
Samir Paul. <b>Samir Paul</b>, a Magnet senior, spent the better part of his junior year at Blair brooding over everyone's favorite high-school publication and wooing Room 165's menopausal printer. He prides himself in being <i>THE</i> largest member of Blair Cross Country and looks forward to one more … More »