WOOD RIVER JCT. — When high school students start the new school year in September, they will have several new courses to choose from, and those choices will grow again for the 2020-2021 school year.
Advanced Music Technology I, Microbiology, Chinese I and Chinese II have all been added for the coming year. The school will also add Children’s Theatre, Approaches to Drama: Page to Stage, Performing Arts Capstone and Issues in Biotechnology as courses the following year. The School Committee initially approved the courses at an October meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Jane Daly said all course proposals are discussed and approved at several administrative levels.
“Every year, you can submit course proposals,” she said. “They go through a pretty lengthy process of getting approvals and signatures from department heads, from the school administration and school improvement teams. Then they are brought to our District Curriculum Planning Council.”
The council, whose membership ranges between 15 and 20, includes teachers, administrators and students, as well as a member of the community. The council meets five times each year.
“Through that council, we review the proposals, we vote on them and make a recommendation to the Superintendent who then also reviews those proposals. If he approves, he then brings them to the School Committee for approval,” Daly said.
The course proposals are accompanied by detailed explanations of which academic standards will be covered, possible impacts on the district’s budget and any equipment or materials that will be needed.
“The School Committee, when they approve the course proposals, it gives them a heads-up if it’s going to impact the budget for the next year,” she said. “That’s an important part of the process, so it communicates to everybody publicly ‘we’re adding these new courses and there will be, for some of them, a cost.’”
Equipment and software for Advanced Music Technology I, for example, will cost about $7,000, an amount that was included in the 2019-2020 schools budget.
Chariho Assistant Principal Andrea Spas said the courses are components of new academic pathways offered by the district.
“These new pathways require certain courses to run, so we wanted them to get approved,” she said. “Not all of them will be running this coming year, but we wanted be able to show students what sequence of courses they’ll need to take as part of their pathway.”
In Advanced Music Technology I, students will learn advanced techniques in music creation, including the production of sound effects and jingles. Studio equipment will be available for students to learn to produce different styles of music. The final project in the course is the production of a music video.
Advanced Music Technology I is in the performing arts pathway, Spas explained.
“It’s going to give students advanced techniques in music creation and they’re going to be able to produce different styles of music through the use of studio equipment, which is exciting," she said. “We have a performing arts program that has two programs associated with it, a music program and a theatre arts program. The advanced music technologies is aligned to our program and that it slotted to run next year.”
In the microbiology class, students will be provided with microscopes to observe tiny organisms and interpret their observations. This course will be one of the requirements for Chariho’s new biotechnology pathway.
Chinese I, a course in Mandarin Chinese offered by the district’s World Languages Department, is an introduction to Chinese language and culture.
Chinese II builds on the Chinese I course.
Children’s Theatre, Approaches to Drama, Performing Arts Capstone and Issue in Biotechnology won’t be offered until fall, 2020, but Spas said it was important for students to be aware of their availability even two years ahead.
“We think it’s critical that students have a bird’s eye view of what their sequence of their pathway or their courses will look like so they can plan their future years accordingly and know what to anticipate and expect to give them an understanding of what’s required,” she said.
“They’re applying in 8th grade,” Daly added. “So we want to make sure they understand what they’re getting into and what the courses involve.”
Chariho offers new courses every year, Daly said, because students' interests are constantly evolving.
“There’s a variety of reasons but we want to constantly evaluate what we’re offering students to make sure it meets their needs and update it as needed,” she said. “What happens is, just because of natural selection, students will select a course that provides interest to them and then a course which may have run in the past won’t run because it’s just outdated and students aren’t interested in it anymore.”
Spas noted that technological advances also necessitated the development of new course offerings and updates to existing courses.
“We run coding and computing courses and those have evolved and we’ve even had to update some prior courses and kind of refresh them so they’re aligned to advances,” she said.
Courses that don’t receive sufficient student enrollment are dropped.
“If we don’t have enough students select a course, it doesn’t run,” Daly said. “All of our courses, every year, once students sign up for them, then we review those registrations and make decisions. Sometimes, they’re tough decisions where you might have a small number of students sign up that are interested but not enough that you can run the class.”
Once the required courses in the curriculum are completed, the district’s remaining courses are student-driven.
“That’s something that we’re really proud of, that our course selection and course offerings are student-led, so it’s based on student interest,” Spas said. “That’s something that we really value at the high school, having students make those choices.”