When Zachary Green learned that he’d been accepted into college in October 2010, he decided to take it easy the rest of his senior year at Walter Johnson High School.
Sure, he went to the classes he needed to graduate and made the grades he needed to stay eligible to play baseball at the Bethesda school. But homework? Forget about it.
“To be honest, I don’t think I did any homework throughout the year,” says Green, now 18 and a freshman at High Point University in North Carolina. “If it wasn’t for baseball, I wouldn’t have gone to school as much. I figured, why even bother?”
It drove his mother crazy.
“He really believed that because he’d gotten into college he was going to skate the rest of the year,” says his mother, Tammy Byrne of Kensington. “…I don’t think I saw the boy do any homework. I’m embarrassed to say it, but it’s true.”
Green had a classic case of “senioritis”—an affliction so pervasive today that it has made its way into the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, which defines it as “an ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors as evidenced by tardiness, absences, and lower grades.”
Most parents remember having had enough of high school and feeling ready to leave it behind for the real world. But in today’s high-pressure academic environment, it’s easy for them to forget that. Parents are overwhelmed instead by the worry that their children might be throwing away their futures by slacking off too soon.
“I have apprehension, absolutely. You only get to do this once,” says Walter Johnson PTSA President Debbie Teicher, whose son, Ethan, is a senior this year. Once her son starts hearing from colleges, “we’ll be making sure that he understands there is still something at stake,” she says.
Parents and school administrators agree that senioritis seems to be hitting earlier and harder for Montgomery County public high school students. “Our kids do so many rigorous AP courses that they get worn out,” says Frances Landau, a resource guidance counselor at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. “They feel entitled. They need a break.”
And those who apply for early decision or early action, as Zachary Green did, often learn where they’ll be going months before they graduate—leaving them wanting a break that much sooner.
“Once they’ve met that goal, it’s hard to keep them motivated,” says Colleen Desmond, resource counselor at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
In 2010-11, Montgomery County Public Schools witnessed a particularly bad outbreak of senioritis after it changed its high school attendance policy, according to several high school principals. Students no longer risked losing credit for missing or being late to class multiple times. The reason behind the change: Too many “at-risk” students weren’t following through with an appeals process that provided ways to restore class credit, possibly because they and their parents didn’t understand the process, school administrators say.
Most students didn’t figure out what the change meant until the second semester that year—but when they did, they ran with it.
That spring, “every principal complained about the same thing,” says Alan Goodwin, principal of Walt Whitman High School. Namely, declining attendance.
Once Green realized he wasn’t “going to get in trouble for not going to class,” he was among those who started to skip.