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Teachers steer clear of National Honor Society

Pine-Richland High School officials are trying to bring the National Honor Society back into favor with teachers, who have shunned the club to the point that none have stepped forward to sponsor it — even for the $874 stipend.

Principal Laura Davis said that teachers are having difficulty with subjective issues related to National Honor Society selection.

In lieu of having a teacher sponsor the club, a duty which mainly consists of administering the program and assisting in the completion of paperwork for the student applicants, district officials have hired William Caldwell, who is not otherwise an employee of the school district, to perform those functions this year.

Students in the society participate in community service projects.

School board member Gary DesChamps said he wants the administration to look into remedying the problem so that teachers will sponsor the program again.

Former high school principal Rebecca Cunningham said she sent out an e-mail to all the teachers and personally called several of them to try to drum up applicants, but to no avail.

Students wishing to join the National Honor Society must meet four requirements: leadership, scholarship, character and service, Davis said.

Outside of the scholarship, which requires a grade-point average of 3.75 or above on a 4-point scale, the other criteria are subjective and based on the recommendation of a panel of five teachers.

There were 59 seniors and 54 juniors in the society at the end of the last school year. The next induction ceremony will be at the end of October.

Michelle Switala, a high school math teacher and National Honor Society sponsor for the past eight years, said sponsorship of the club is “problematic.” Just the grade-point average alone presents a challenge, she said.

“When we started weighting honors courses, we had so many kids over 4.0. You’re talking a fifth of the class has over a 4.0. This is a problem across the state,” she said. “We raised the GPA standard (to 3.75 from 3.0), and we still have a ton of kids coming in. The question becomes: ‘Should it be exclusive or just an honorable thing that everyone should be in?’ We already have honor rolls and a Key Club that does activities.”

Key Club is a service club for high school students.

Jordan Obaker, 17, of Richland, and a Pine-Richland senior who belongs to the National Honor Society, thinks there needs to be more stress on the character evaluation, although he recognizes that judging character is difficult for teachers.

“Not every teacher knows every student,” he said. “I know there are a lot of great kids out there, but they don’t have the GPA. On the same token, there are kids that don’t work hard enough. You can’t just let any kid in who gets B’s and A’s.”

There is no Pennsylvania State Chapter of the National Honor Society, even though the society was founded in Pittsburgh in 1921.

While these problems are nothing new, Switala said, she didn’t throw in the towel because of them.

“I’m really involved in a lot of things at the school, and it’s time to take a step back,” she said. “There are lots of things that I do. It’s time for someone else to take over.”

Switala said she does announcing for basketball games, sells tickets for school events and helps train her colleagues in the use of technology.

She also said that as a result of the GPA, the more subjective requisites come more into play.

“Our students’ GPAs are so high, not every student with a 4.0 has spectacular character,” she said. “And there may be an average kid, working really, really hard in their courses and have spectacular character, and they just don’t meet that (GPA) number, and that’s just not fair either. The district needs to decide what the philosophy is going to be with this.”


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