Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

A Parent’s Guide to the 2018-2019 Program of Studies

Welcome to Port City Notebook’s fifth annual Guide to the Program of Studies for parents of middle- and high-school parents. You might benefit from looking back at previous editions of this post (20142015, 2016, and 2017) which contain general information that’s largely still current about course requirements and selections.

At 115 pages, the Program of Studies resembles a college course catalog. Take a quick glance at it and you’ll appreciate even more the breadth of options that a large high school such as T.C. Williams can offer your child. (ACPS could greatly improve the usefulness of the document in the future by developing an interactive version that makes it easier to search and navigate.)

One of the most notable changes this year is for rising ninth-grade students. Decades ago, perhaps in response to an alarming teen pregnancy rate, a course called “Fundamentals of Human Growth and Development” was mandated by ACPS (but is not required by the state or neighboring school divisions). As it became more and more difficult to fit electives such as world languages and music/art/drama into the ninth-grade schedule, students were permitted to opt out of the class with a waiver signed by their parents. Starting this fall, it’s now an elective rather than a required course and there’s no need to opt out.

The course also has a new name—“Issues Facing Today’s Teens.” It’s open to students in grades nine through 12. Some former students say that this is one of the most interesting and important courses they ever took at T.C., and it could be a good option for rounding out a 10th– or 11th-grade schedule.

Perhaps the most exciting addition is the new GWU/ACPS Academy of Health Sciences. Students must apply for entry into the academy, and applications are due April 2. If accepted, students can earn up to 22 college credits from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in one of these “pathways”: surgical, nursing, medical laboratory services, sports medicine, pharmacy, emergency medical services or biomedical informatics.

A new “Computer and Keyboarding Applications” will be offered to International Academy students, especially those who may not have had any exposure to computers. Also new next year are honors level online courses in several core subject areas, such as biology, chemistry, government, world history and U.S. history. This will broaden the options for the 100 students enrolled in T.C.’s Satellite program as well as other students interested in taking courses online.

There is now a “25th Hour” option for the ninth-grade PE requirement in addition to the 10th-grade PE requirement. Students who play sports or are otherwise physically active wear a heart rate monitor to record their physical activity, and there’s an online health component as well. There is an enrollment cap of 25 for the ninth-grade course and 60 for tenth-graders.

Speaking of required courses, most students know by now about the Economics and Personal Finance course that the state of Virginia implemented after the financial crisis. Unfortunately, many former students disliked this class so much (especially in its online incarnation) that they have no intention of ever again taking another economics class. I have it on good authority from students who have taken AP Economics with Mr. Orzel and who are economics majors in college that the required course is a very poor representation of the field of economics. A fact that’s little-known is that AP Economics satisfies the Economics portion of the state requirement. Students still have to take the separate Personal Finance module, but that can be done online (thereby also satisfying the online course requirement). It’s a very, pardon me, efficient way to free up an elective and to take a class from one of T.C.’s finest faculty members.

Thinking ahead to college planning, consider discussing with your student the merits of taking a computer science course in high school or college. Even liberal arts majors are finding that an introductory class is helpful to have on their transcripts and resumés. At T.C. there are several options: Introduction to Computer Science, AP Computer Science Principles, and AP Computer Science A.

Students Demand Action

From T.C. senior Jay Falk and junior Hannah Miller, who are organizing students to demand action for gun sense in America:

Join us as we honor the students of Stoneman Douglas High School.
T.C. (and D.C. metro area) students, mark your calendar for the
Tuesday, February 27th #WeAreAllEagles event.

Wear the colors of Stoneman Douglas High School—maroon, gold, and black—to stand in solidarity with gun violence victims and call for common sense reform. You can pick up an orange ribbon from various places around the school, as orange represents the fight against gun violence.

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