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GCPS students turning down offers to attend Maggie Walker
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GCPS students turning down offers to attend Maggie Walker

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Each year, Goochland County Public Schools offers the opportunity for the district’s academically gifted eighth grade students to apply for admission into the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, a public regional magnet high school in Richmond.

But while Goochland is typically awarded seven of the program’s slots, this year school officials say they have seen some students turn down the placements they were offered.

According to GCPS advanced programs specialist Beth Fowler, four of the seven eighth grade students at Goochland Middle School selected to attend the program declined the offer, marking the second year in a row that school officials have approached students on the program’s waiting list.

This year, said Fowler, she was even able to get far enough down the list to offer a place to an applicant who had not initially been accepted into the program.

Fowler shared this development during last Thursday’s December school board meeting. Responding to a question from school board member John Wright, Fowler said she was not certain at this point if the numbers point to an emerging trend.

“It’s certainly something we want to keep an eye on,” said Fowler. “If we go a third year of going beyond the waitlist, at that point I would say it is a trend.”

When it comes to why the students offered the once-coveted placements are declining them, Fowler said she sees a number of potential reasons, chief among them the sheer number of choices currently available to Goochland’s academically gifted students.

In addition to seeking a placement at Maggie Walker, GCPS students can take part in the Blue Ridge Regional Virtual Governor’s School program or the increasingly popular Advanced College Academy (ACA), which offers students the opportunity to earn an associate degree while completing the requirements for their high school diploma.

Of the three options, only the Maggie Walker program requires students to attend a different school full time.

“I think some of these students are saying, ‘If I can have some of the same academic opportunities and still be able to attend school with my friends and the people I’ve known since elementary school, that’s what I’d like to do,’ ” said Fowler. “I think it’s a hard thing for them to turn down.”

The good news, Fowler said, is that the division’s efforts to reach students of color appear to be paying off. While the division did not see any of the 31% of students who identified as being a member of a recognized minority group apply to attend Maggie Walker in 2019, this year that number has risen to 31% of applicants.

Fowler attributed this in part to initiatives including placing a special emphasis on reaching out to minority students and hosting sessions like “Application 101,” a program offered to any student seeking help with the application to attend Maggie Walker.

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