Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

Some Random Things to Know about the Program of Studies

The 2014-2015 Program of Studies is an important document for middle-school and high-school students and parents.  It outlines all of the graduation requirements for both the advanced studies and standard diplomas, and provides descriptions of required and elective courses.

TCW_logo_smallA quick scroll through the Program of Studies illustrates the advantages that a high school as large as T.C. can offer students who wish to explore subjects as diverse as photography, public speaking and physics.  In addition to a wide variety of Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Enrollment (DE) courses, there are some new offerings among the Career and Technical Education courses, including a Dual Enrollment Surgical Tech course sponsored by Inova Alexandria Hospital (p. 59), and Firefighting I, which is offered in partnership with the Alexandria Fire Department (p. 63).

Fulfilling graduation requirements has become more challenging in recent years because of two courses that are now mandated by the state of Virginia—an Economics and Personal Finance course (p. 57), and an online course of the student’s choice (p. 86). It’s possible to fulfill both of these requirements by taking an online version of the personal finance course. AP Economics, however, does not fulfill the Economics and Personal Finance requirement.

A third course that’s mandated by ACPS (but not by the state) is Fundamentals of Human Growth and Development (p. 67).

Parents of rising ninth-graders: Along with the four required core content subjects (math, science, language arts, social studies), there are many electives, as well as some courses that are required for graduation, competing for the three other periods in your student’s ninth-grade class schedule.

At first glance, it seems impossible to fit band/chorus/orchestra/drama, foreign language, PE, and Fundamentals of Human Growth and Development into three class periods.  Here are some of the options available:

  • Take PE in summer school. It runs for the entire month of July.
  • Take Fundamentals of Human Growth and Development in summer school. You can also fulfill this requirement by taking the course in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade.
  • Opt out of Fundamentals of Human Growth and Development entirely.  There’s an opt-out form in four languages on pages 10-13. In addition to the course description in the Program of Studies, you can review the course curriculum guide on the ACPS website.

The Program of Studies for 2014-2015 does not make clear whether 9th-grade band students in the Symphonic Band or Wind Ensemble are required to be in Marching Band (p. 68). In past years, freshmen have not been required to be in Marching Band. (You can read more about recent changes to the Marching Band requirement in a previous Port City Notebook post here.)

Parents of rising 10th-graders:  If your student plays sports or is otherwise physically active, he or she can take an 8th period class—one that meets outside the regular school day—called 25th Hour, which fulfills the 10th-grade PE requirement. Course participants spend the first quarter taking Driver’s Ed before school (7:25 a.m. to 8:25 a.m.; no bus transportation provided). They also have to wear a heart rate monitor to record their physical activity during the second half of the school year, and there’s an online health component as well.

Parents of rising 11th and 12th graders:  When both options are available for a given subject, such as English Composition or U.S. History, should your student take the Dual Enrollment or Advanced Placement version of the class?

AP classes are familiar to many parents.  They are college-level courses; depending on your score on the AP exam (which is administered and graded by the College Board) and the college you attend, you may receive college credit for that course, or you may be eligible to place out of an introductory course in that subject in college.

Dual enrollment courses allow high school students to earn college credit for high school courses that are taught by high school faculty who meet the credentials to teach college level courses. Students who receive at least a C in a dual enrollment course earn college credit toward a degree at any Virginia public college or university.

Some out-of-state colleges may also accept the credits, but are not required to accept them. If your student hopes to attend, say, Penn State, then you may want to contact the admissions office there to see if they would accept the DE credits from T.C.

The coursework for DE and AP courses in the same subject is considered to be equally rigorous, and DE students can take the AP exam. One counselor described the DE courses as more research-oriented, and the AP courses as oriented more around DBQs—document-based questions, a concept that’s introduced to many middle-schoolers to prepare them for AP courses. With DBQs, students are expected to write a short essay based on information found in primary source documents that are provided to them.

Counselors point out that some of the most highly-competitive colleges may prefer AP to DE courses because AP is familiar to them and standardized across the country. Two DE math courses, on the other hand, are offered to students who have completed AP Calculus and are seeking even higher-level college mathematics.

From a practical standpoint, if a student is planning to attend Northern Virginia Community College as a pathway to a four-year college, or is certain to attend a Virginia public college or university, then the DE credits could be extremely beneficial in reducing the cost of college. The DE course offerings are broad enough to allow a student to complete the equivalent of one year of college while he or she is still in high school, effectively reducing the cost of tuition by 25%.

For more information:

Chat with a T.C. Counselor: Wednesday, March 12, 8:00 a.m. Parents, students and faculty are encouraged to stop by for their morning coffee and a chat with a member of the counseling staff in the T.C. College & Career Center (A114). Bring any questions about schedules, course selection, SOLs, APs, PSAT, SAT, ACT, college applications, NOVA, financial aid, scholarships, etc.

If you have questions about online courses, contact Mary Fluharty, Coordinator of Online Learning, at mary.fluharty@acps.k12.va.us.

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