Here’s one local expert’s take on senioritis in NoVA

Calling all parents of second-semester seniors: We chatted with Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling and senior class dean at Flint Hill School, about how to keep teens engaged until graduation.

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The second semester of senior year for Northern Virginia high schools is officially in full swing. 

While for some, college acceptance letters are still on their way, the majority of teens in the region have heard from at least one school on their list. And while that’s exciting, it also means you may start to see your once-motivated, academically inclined child behave differently than they ever have before. 

Don’t worry, it’s normal. Yet sometimes, senioritis can go a little too far, leading to a missed final project, or maybe even overused absences. 

If you’ve noticed a case of senioritis with your child, Susan Chiarolanzio, the director of college counseling and the senior class dean at Flint Hill School in Oakton, has you covered. Here, she shares her experience with the ebbing of motivation and how you can help from home. 

Talk to me about senioritis in general. What exactly does it consist of and when do you see students participate in these behaviors?
It can happen at different times, and it seems to be dependent on the class’ personality. Last year, for example, I felt like our kids were affected in October, but it typically starts at the beginning of the last semester, when everyone is very aware that time is coming to an end due to announcements, updates and us constantly saying, “It’s the last one.” Also culturally, here in our area, for however long their family has chosen to make the college process the priority, everything is, “Do this so you can get in to college. Do that so you can get accepted,” and they’ve done all that, so in their minds they are done. They ask what they need to keep working for. 

I think the way it exhibits itself is they are late to classes when they never have been, the lower-priority assignments get turned in late or not at all, they don’t maybe put in the same amount of time as they would have with big projects. Sometimes it can be pretty significant, and it has a negative affect on their ability. A lot of students have found themselves in a hole where they missed too many days of school or skipped too many assignments and when that happens, it’s really hard to get back on track. 

Are there specific aspects of curriculum or the school day in general where you see kids continuing to stay interested?
I do think a lot of it is teacher dependent. If they’ve developed a good relationship with specific teachers, students will care. Here at Flint Hill, our seniors are done with classes around May 1 and then they do a senior project for the whole month of May. So right now, they are planning that, and I think in their mind, that’s a real-world experience that they are excited about. There aren’t too many restraints and some of them do career-related things, whereas some do things they’ve never done and probably won’t do again, like work in a bakery. It just gives them some motivation, which really helps us. Universally, seniors are often beyond the requirements for graduating so they got to choose electives in the first place, and I think those tend to keep students pretty engaged. 

When you notice a student falling into the senior slump, what do you do to combat that?
Honestly, forcing them to stick to requirements doesn’t always work. But there are still the normal consequences involved for second semester seniors, so we keep those in place. One of the things we try to do preemptively is host a session with the seniors in the winter where we give them a mock letter from a real college in the area saying, “You haven’t maintained your performance and we are thinking of taking your acceptance away.” We ask the students to defend themselves and explain why they should still be admitted. It’s a way to show them that there are conditions colleges expect you to stick to, and a lot of good conversation comes in. 

Also, when someone starts to really flip, it’s important that a lot of different adults can step in and motivate them. We remind them that they can do better by reiterating our belief in them. 

How can parents continue to motivate their child, despite receiving those acceptance letters?
Encouraging parents to continue to maintain the accountability of the kids is really important. It’s a difficult balance for parents because they hear how they have to increase their kids’ independence before college, yet they still have to keep some control academically. Parents can have conversations about maintaining academic standing, yet easing up on a curfew or maybe give other freedoms to get the entire family prepared for what’s to come.

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