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Great Debate: Electives Format

Great Debate: Electives Format

November 19, 2021

BHS student’s are required, in accordance to New Jersey’s educational laws, to fulfill credits in multiple elective fields. This remains the subject of great debate amongst students, educators, and parents. Below, two students explore the benefits and downsides to these requirements, debating the question, should elective requirements remain in place?

Current elective format works

School electives present students with a unique opportunity to expand upon their interests, or try out a new activity while in class. Credit requirements in multiple different fields have students trying a vast range of subjects. Before they graduate, BHS students must fulfill credits in Visual and Performing Arts, Financial Literacy and Technology and Research, as well as 21st Century Life and Careers.

Some students are frustrated by these requirements, as it forces them to dedicate about a semester or more to each subject. 

However, despite initial resistance, students may find they enjoy a class far more than they anticipated. This may result in the discovery of a new interest students would have otherwise never realized.

While it may be uncomfortable for students to step outside their comfort zones, it also presents a unique opportunity to learn something new with the guidance of skilled teachers and hands-on experience.

It is understandable that students who feel they have already decided the career path they want to pursue may want to take electives that coincide with their interests, but to limit their potential to one field would cause students to miss out on the opportunity to discover a new passion.

The Director of Guidance, Mrs. Walker commented, “Having diverse course offerings and requirements in those areas allows students to explore their passion and tap into hidden talents. Conversely, it may also allow students to learn more about what they don’t like, which can help a student rule out potential career paths that won’t align with their interests and skill set…It’s better to try various courses now instead of paying hefty tuition for them later only to find out you don’t like the subject area.”

There is also the possibility that a student may get to college having spent the entirety of high school focused on one subject, and realize they no longer want to pursue that specific career. This creates a problem for students who have not branched out, and may feel trapped into this field, having devoted so much time to it already.

Mrs. Walker elaborates, “Additionally, colleges understand that students are required to fulfill course obligations in a variety of subject areas, so they expect to see diverse course enrollments on transcripts. Typically, students aren’t choosing a major/concentration in high school, but by taking a wide range of courses in high school, it may lead to clarity when they have to declare one in college.”

Moreover, if the student has not had time to experiment with interests throughout highschool, by the time they graduate and may begin to feel burnt out on their subject of choice, they will not know what other subjects interest them, having not experienced anything else.

Before graduating and plunging head first into the real world, students should have the chance to experiment with multiple interests. BHS offers the perfect opportunity to try something new, with free resources the outside world does not offer.

That is to say, if a student is interested in learning pottery or painting, they have access to a multitude of art supplies and can consult with experienced art teachers who can help guide them throughout the process. Or, if a student elects to take a technology course, they are provided with advanced computer programs and teachers who are well versed in coding, photoshop, and more, to help them achieve their goals.

These are resources that are not as readily available outside of high school, and certainly not free of expense. Many students may neglect to realize the importance of utilizing these resources and making the most of the opportunity, which is why it is so important electives are required in multiple fields.

Mrs. Walker also notes that “the state of New Jersey requires students to take courses in a variety of areas. I think that it’s important to be well-rounded and these requirements enable students to explore different course options that they may not have pursued if there were no mandates.”

Despite not necessarily being subject to change, students continue to have options, Mrs. Walker wants students to know, “If (they) have ideas for new courses, they can always speak with me or a curriculum supervisor.”

She also encourages students to look on the bright side, “I would encourage students to try to see the benefits of learning some new skills–they may come in handy one day!  There are often multiple ways to satisfy some of the state graduation requirements, so try to tailor your courses to align with your interests whenever possible.”

To avoid problems such as students boxing themselves into a field too early on, elective requirements are necessary to give students the push they need to try something new. At its worst, a student may not like a class they take. At it’s best, elective requirements may change a student’s life for the better.

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Current elective format needs reform

     As Bernards High School continues to find new ways to improve academics and enhance in-person learning following the COVID-19 pandemic, a pondering question has become the formatting of the electives.

     Both Financial Literacy and Technology and Research are graduation requirements for all students, with course offerings in 21st Century Life & and Careers and Visual and Performing Arts. In order to earn a New Jersey-endorsed high school diploma from Bernards High School, a pupil must successfully complete 121 credits in high school and/or receive the recommendation of the High School principal.

This list of graduation requirements includes One semester (2.5 credits) of economics and financial literacy, One year (5 credits) in the Visual & Performing Arts, and One Year (5 credits) in 21st Century Life & Careers. The NJ Department of Education requires that students complete 5 credits in these areas.

     Following Bernard’s High School’s decision to reformat and follow a rotate-and-drop schedule, the administration has continued to find new ways to enhance students’ learning in the classroom. With an additional 15 minutes added to each period, BHS felt that this exact move could expand students’ ability to obtain information being taught in class. 

     Vice Principal Dr. Corbett says “the longer blocks allow for more formative assessments, deepery inquiry, and more class discussion.” 

    Students within the school district have begun to feel frustrated over the years with Bernard’s elective format, and have felt that they aren’t given enough leeway to pursue and enroll in classes they have interest in. With graduation requirements broken up into three different categories, students are obligated to learn subjects through Arts, 21st Century Life, and Economics.

    While it may be required for students to take electives in these courses, it also limits their ability to take classes they have a growing interest in. It is understandable as to why the state of New Jersey enforces these requirements for students to try different electives, but placing kids in classes they don’t have interest in reflects poorly on their efforts. Dr. Corbett believes that the High School should be offering “as many electives as possible” to give students ample opportunities to pursue courses of interest.

     Although the state requires students to take electives in required areas, the student body feels a change in the electives format could enhance their learning experience at the High School. 

     Senior Jake Clark says “I think that if we were to change the current elective formats into one that allowed students to pick and choose the electives they were most passionate about, that would lead to better grade averages, along with an overall excitement in each student’s schedule.”

    Junior Scarlett Campbell adds, “I think that schools already dictate enough of the curriculum, so students should be able to pick electives that excite them and find classes that they can be passionate about. Schools need to encourage students to be more excited about their classes and by allowing kids to be more independent, it will give them more room to grow as individuals.”

    If students were given the time to experiment with the courses they’d like to take, they’ll have a better understanding of a career path they want to pursue in college. Students would be given the opportunity to have a basic knowledge and understanding of what they would potentially like to do in the future.

Although this kind of change is out of the curriculum’s control, the state of New Jersey would see students from all different townships passionate about their course selections.

     Understanding the basics of financial literacy, and certain 21st century skills classes can be very important, but so is having the ability to pursue a course load that excites us as students and individuals.

For example, if a student is passionate about digital journalism and broadcasting, they should be given ample opportunity to add courses like Introduction to Journalism and Multimedia to their schedule. They’d be given the opportunity to write articles and construct a newspaper, along with learning how to present in front of a camera.

     Bernards High School continues to look for new ways to enhance the excitement of learning for students and has always remained open to adding new electives to the curriculum. Courses have been added and dropped based on the student body’s interest in each course.

      Dr. Corbett says “There have been many changes to our offerings over the years and these changes are driven by students and teachers.”

     To enhance students’ learning and excitement about school to the fullest extent, the state of New Jersey should change its current elective format to students having the opportunity to select the classes they remain passionate about.

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