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West Hartford High School Students Will Have New Graduation Requirements

Beginning with the class of 2023, the requirements to graduate from high school in West Hartford will change to include additional credits and a mastery experience.

By Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Board of Education last week unanimously approved updated graduation requirements effective for the class of 2023, changes that are being made in accordance with state law.

In advance of the vote on Feb. 20, the graduation requirement changes were discussed in detail at the Board’s Feb. 5 meeting, with an overview presented by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Paul Vicinus and Director of Secondary Education Anne McKernan.

For the class of 2023 – this year’s eighth graders who will begin their freshman year in August – a total of 25 credits will be required, and there will be changes in the way those credits must be distributed. Currently, a total of 21.75 credits are required for graduation.

Students who are already in high school – next year’s sophomores, juniors, and seniors – will not be subject to the new requirements.

While the need to fulfill 3.75 additional units may sound onerous, about 80 percent of students at Conard and Hall already graduate with 25 or more credits, McKernan told the Board.

Currently only two units of science are required, and that will increase to three, Vicinus said, while the math requirement will remain at three units. Within the overall new requirement of nine “STEM” (science, technology, and mathematics) units, three can be chosen based on a student’s interests.

Under the overall classification of “Humanities,” where nine units will be required, students will still need to complete four units of English and three of Social Studies. Added to that is a requirement of one unit of a world language. While many colleges require prospective students to take world language, McKernan said it has not been a graduation requirement.

Students previously have had the opportunity to take one unit of arts or technology, but now 0.5 units of arts will be specifically required within the nine Humanities courses.

One of the changes which will have the most impact is the requirement for a full unit of health, which Vicinus said “will change our delivery model.” Currently, only 0.25 units of health is required – and historically many West Hartford high school students choose to satisfy that requirement by taking a seven-day class during the summer before their sophomore year which provides them more study hall time as upperclassmen.

Because of the need for two full units of either health or physical education – one of which must be in health – once the class of 2023 and subsequent classes reach their junior and senior year, they will still need to take health or physical education each semester instead. Currently, a total of 1.75 units of physical education and health is required.

Health education will be expanded to cover more topics – with a focus on wellness for freshmen and sophomores. Vicinus said that for juniors and seniors, there will be a greater variety of health and physical education electives, like nutrition and individual fitness planning.

Summer school may still provide an alternative. “We are still considering how best to offer health in summer school,” McKernan said Monday.

She said there will be “no impact immediately” in terms of extra staff needed to satisfy the health requirement, and physical education teachers are also certified to teach health education.

The other major change which will impact all students in the class of 2023 and beyond is the “mastery experience” requirement.

Essentially a “capstone” project, McKernan told the Board that the mastery experience requirement is “one of the most exciting aspects of the changes,” and will allow students to “demonstrate through their own choice and their own interest what they can do.”

Topics for the mastery experience units will be left as open as possible, to allow students to study what they are passionate about. It could be class-driven, McKernan said – citing the recent “witness stones” project as an example – involve getting certification in a skill, or an individual research project.

“We want them to find a topic that interests them that they will do a significant program around,” she told the Board. While some districts may use this requirement as a senior project, West Hartford is planning to keep a broader focus, and also will not require students to wait until senior year to fulfill the requirement.

“We see it as a very exciting portion of their experience,” McKernan told the Board.

Board member Lorna Thomas-Farquharson asked how social and emotional learning fit into the curriculum changes. Vicinus reposed that while there is not a stand-alone course, that is part of the district’s pedagogy and approach, as well as special programming. “The true intent is to embed [it] across all our classes and policies,” he said.

The need to update graduation requirements has been in discussion for years, and the implementation had been previously delayed by the state.

Vicinus said that there should not be a “dramatic impact” in the course of study for most kids, and the strength of West Hartford’s curriculum dovetails well with the requirements. Even though the STEM requirement may sound daunting, even those students who currently take a large number of arts electives have been generally meeting it already. Most students also take a world language.

The new requirements are being rolled out to the incoming freshmen, and flow charts in the school program guide are being shifted so that students know what is expected beginning with freshman year, Superintendent Tom Moore said. The program guide can be viewed online here.

The following graduation requirements, which impact students beginning with the class of 2023, were approved unanimously by the West Hartford Board of Education on Feb. 20:

  • A total of nine units in the Humanities, including four units of English, three units of Social Studies (including one unit of U.S. History, one unit of World History, and 1/2 unit of American Government/Civics), one unit of World Language, and 1/2 unit of Arts
  • Nine units in Science, Technology and Mathematics, including three units of Mathematics, three units of Science (including one unit of Physical Science and one unit of Life Science)
  • Two units of Physical Education and Health, of which one unit must be in Physical Education and one unit must be in Health Education
  • One unit of a Mastery Experience
  • Four units of Electives

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