Exit interviews help seniors take first step in real world

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 1:56 p.m.

The curvature of Baldwin High School's main hallway was lined with young men and women in suits and dresses, most of them leaning over pieces of paper, memorizing the answers that they hope will charm the group waiting inside each classroom.

This is no ordinary assignment - this is what they've been preparing for all year. This is the assignment that filled a binder, included research and community service, the one that ultimately decides if they will be a Class of 2012 Baldwin High School graduate.

"It's almost as if they're interviewing for a job," said Adam Foote, a social studies teacher who coordinated the interviews. "I think there are some very nervous students waiting in the hall right now."

About 350 seniors attended school on May 24 - a day the rest of the district's students were off because of the state primary - to attend personal exit interviews. The students each sat before a panel of four to six teachers and administrators from every school in the district and answered questions about their time at Baldwin.

Previous to the interviews, students had to complete 15 hours of community service, a research paper and a portfolio that included a resumé, references, a tentative financial budget, career research and self-reflection essays, Foote said. This work started at the beginning of the school year, and combined with the senior interview, decides if the student will graduate.

Last year, only one or two students failed the assignment, Foote said.

"The goal is to not to keep students from graduating, but to make them ready for life," Foote said.

Each interview took between 15 and 30 minutes, after which the panel members discuss the student, score the interview out of 100 points and then give the student feedback.

Baldwin High School administrators started the senior exit interviews about three or four years ago. This is the second year district-wide teachers were invited to join the panels, Foote said.

Foote and the rest of the social studies teachers worked with the students throughout the year to keep them on task with their portfolio work, he said.

"It would be unfair to graduate them without these skills," Foote said. "I don't know if they truly see the benefit yet."

Zach DeNardo, 18, of Whitehall, was one of the 10:30 a.m. interviewees for the panel that consisted of Diana Golden, a kindergarten teacher at McAnnulty Elementary School; Jennifer Petrilla, a first-grade teacher at Paynter Elementary School; Sarah Fiorill, a guidance counselor at Baldwin High School; Eric Saternos, a sixth-grade teacher at J.E. Harrison Middle School; and John Wilkinson, assistant superintendent.

Coincidentally, Golden was DeNardo's kindergarten teacher and Saternos had him as a student as a sixth-grader.

"Some things never change," said Golden, during the interview. "He was always hard-working."

DeNardo was asked to name three words that would describe him, his future career goals, what he learned from his community service, his weaknesses and the most important lesson he learned in high school, among other questions.

"You did a fabulous job," said Patrilla, adding that DeNardo made great eye contact and answered the questions well.

DeNardo will attend Duquesne University this fall and hopes to pursue a career in pharmacy, he said.

Afterward, DeNardo said he was pleased with his interview.

"I thought it was very beneficial and it will help me out in future interviews," DeNardo said. "It makes me feel proud and I hope they feel the same way ... I'm happy it's over."

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