It looks like Darien's schools are doing a really good job getting students ready for the stressful rigors of college.

Maybe too good.

According to the results of a post-graduation survey given to last year's Darien High School graduates at the end of their first semester of college, Darien's tough academic curriculum made some of them feel like college was a bit of a cakewalk.

"The thing that surprised me the most is that the level of work they received (in Darien) was more as far as work and difficulty than at college," said Director of Guidance Paul Ribeiro.

"Because they were able learn to balance that at Darien High School, they are having an easier time at college. They are having an easier time at their first year of college than their last year at DHS."

Ribeiro unveiled the survey's results at last Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.

The online survey, which was designed to gain feedback from graduates on satisfaction on college choice as well as how well they were prepared in the core subjects of English, math, science, social studies, and world languages, was made available Jan.1.

According to Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Matthew Byrnes, who teamed with Ribeiro on the survey, it is the first time the school system has tried to contact graduates for feedback on the school system's performance.

"We want to create the attitude that we would love to stay in touch with you, because now we would love to learn from you," Byrnes said.

The survey consisted of 20 questions that asked students about how happy they were with their college choices, how well they felt Darien prepared them for college, and whether they plan to transfer.

The survey found that 95 percent of graduates were happy with their school choice, but only 53 percent were going to their first choice of colleges.

About 18 percent said they were unhappy with their school choice and planned to transfer -- for reasons ranging from the college being too small, too expensive and an unenthusiastic student body.

"When we are working with our students and they have this mindset of what their number one school is, we can show that only 53 percent are going to their first choice, but 95 percent are very happy," Ribeiro said.

"Just because you are in your first choice school doesn't mean you will be happy there."

About 81 percent of the students surveyed said they felt well-prepared in math. Of the other subjects, 77 percent in science, 78 percent in English, 66 percent in social studies, and 42 percent in world language.

A majority of the respondents said that if any changes to the curriculum were made, they would like to see more opportunities to work independently, and to be able to apply their knowledge to more "real world" situations. Also, students suggested more course offerings such as in business and science that would focus on particular college majors.

"We make all these assumptions about what colleges want, but the kids can help us out, and they sure are being honest," Byrnes said.

Last winter, letters were sent home to all Darien High School graduates, and 11 graduates were asked to spread the word about the survey to their peers through social media outlets such as Facebook.

Only about 44 of the 268 graduating seniors responded, but Ribeiro said that was because of inaccurate email addresses or the students were not aware of the survey.

School officials look at this as a first-ever attempt to try to get real-time feedback from their graduates, and they said they hope to expand the effort next year, including starting a Facebook page, making the senior class more aware of the survey, and even collecting class syllabi from various schools to be able to compare the curriculum to the Darien High School program.

"When they leave it would be nice if we let them know they are always welcome to come back," Board of Education member Clara Sartori said.

Board member James Plutte asked if the lack of an alumni association in Darien is a factor in graduates not keeping in touch. Byrnes told him that neighboring school districts such as Rye, N.Y., and Long Island have begun using Facebook to keep in touch with its graduates.

"It's hard to monitor for appropriateness," Byrnes said.

"That's one of the drawbacks of using it, is that you almost have to hire someone to control what gets posted."

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