Thomas Jefferson High School. To Go or Not To Go?

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“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” This quote by Malcolm X means different things to different people. Some believe that the key to success in education is at TJHSST. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) is a state-chartered magnet school located in Fairfax County, Virginia. Enrollment is approximately 1800, and the school supports grades nine-twelve. TJHSST was rated sixth best high school in the nation by USNews. Evan Glazer is the Principal, and Brandon Kosatka is the Director of Student Services. TJHSST has many advanced programs to offer, but there are also drawbacks to this well-rated high school.

At TJHSST, critical thinking and problem solving skills are nurtured, as they believe that these skills are essential to fixing the complex problems of the world today. TJ has a mission to “provide students with a challenging learning environment focused on math, science, and technology, to inspire joy at the prospect of discovery, and to foster a culture of innovation based on ethical behavior and the shared interests of humanity”. TJ believes that learning can never end, and that collaborating with people and having good fundamental knowledge can propel a student to do great things in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career.

TJ has a strong mentorship program. Students involved in this program are mentored by accomplished professionals in their field. Many different agencies sponsor this program at TJ. There are many opportunities for advanced curriculum at TJ.  The high school offers an embedded activities period – for students to seek extra academic support or participate in clubs or other activities. Ms Riddle, an 8th grade teacher on the Dolphins team, believes that students who are truly interested in engineering and other STEM studies are more likely to be happier at TJ doing what they are interested in all the time. Many seventh graders would like to apply to TJ in the coming school year. A seventh grader interested in applying, said, “It focuses on a field that I’d like to pursue a career in. I’d like to be a doctor and study biology, and I hear that TJ has great equipment and offers scientific programs to get me started.”

 

Even though Thomas Jefferson High School is a highly desirable school in the eyes of many students, there are some downsides.  Admission to this premiere school is not straightforward. This is a multiple step process and eighth graders across the nation take rigorous prep courses to prepare for it. According to Mrs. Debaldo, a Champions seventh grade math teacher, “The academic program at TJ is designed for those students who are highly motivated and driven academically.” Once a candidate makes it through the grueling entrance exam, there is a heavy load of coursework, late release times, and a long commute for many students.There is also an unwritten expectation that students will be able to do self-learning and independent research. The graduation requirements are stricter, and colleges hold these students to much higher standards.

All freshmen are required to take one semester of statistics, so most freshmen have to learn Algebra II in one semester, while in other schools, freshmen go through the curriculum in one year. In general, TJHS students have more homework, projects, and tests than an average student. This heavy workload may lead to stress and anxiety in students. The late release time can be hard for high schoolers who have sports or after school activities because they get home late and have little time to finish their homework which essentially means very little sleep.

Ms. Riddle knew many people who had to give up after-school activities and other hobbies they enjoyed, because TJ was so great of a time commitment. High schoolers may be traveling very far to get to school. TJ requires 26 credits for graduation while most FCPS schools requires only 21. According to an article written by TJ Today, the percentage of students from TJ getting accepted into UVA has declined. 75% of TJ’s class of 2011 were accepted into UVA, however only 58% of TJ’s class of 2013 were accepted into UVA.

People have very different opinions when TJHSST comes to mind. On one side, people see the school as an extra hard push towards success, while others deem it as too stressful and/or strict. When making the decision to attend or not to attend TJHSST, it is important to keep in mind that the school will be challenging, so your mental health could be at risk. But, while persevering through these challenges you will face, you will acquire great problem-solving skills that will help you in life. According to another RCMS teacher, “There are many FCPS schools that have excellent teachers, offer the same quality education, and provide many opportunities for extensive learning.” Students should focus on what motivates and drives them rather than being guided by the norm.

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Thomas Jefferson High School. To Go or Not To Go?