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Program of studies to change next school year

SoVaNow.com / November 24, 2020
The Mecklenburg County School board is expected to approve a new program of studies for middle and high school students at the December regular meeting, before students begin pre-registration for classes in the 2021-22 school year.

The changes hinge on the school division going back to operating full-time and in-person by the start of the new school year.

The updated program makes several changes to the academic curriculum and other aspects of school attendance and conduct policies. Parents and students will be asked to familiarize themselves with the new standards prior to January and February, when the pre-registration period for classes takes place.

Left unchanged are rules that allow students to enroll in any available course where they meet both the grade level and prerequisite requirements, and have parental approval. Also unchanged is the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that students will be required to pass to earn a diploma.

The updated program carries forward the increased emphasis on having students develop critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and citizenship skills, in addition to their academic achievement in English, mathematics, science and history.

Course requirements for both the Advanced Studies Diploma and the Standard Diploma remain the same, as do the number of required verified credits — five, one each in English reading, English writing, mathematics, science and history/social science. The five-credit requirement applies to students graduating in 2021, with a sixth credit required for students graduating in 2022 and beyond. The sixth verified credit will be student selected.

Mecklenburg County Public Schools is contemplating whether to offer geometry to middle school students, which would allow them to earn one verified credit before entering high school.

In the coming school year, middle school students will have more opportunities to learn about career options aligned with their interests. While MCPS continues to operate two middle schools, some career-related or elective courses will be offered to students at only one of the schools.

For instance, sixth-grade students at Bluestone Middle School can take an exploratory course in music to advance their musical knowledge and skills by studying music theory, learning musical styles and music history. In the seventh grade, students can further advance their music studies through singing, playing instruments, performing rhythms, moving to music, and composing/improvising music.

At Park View Middle School, sixth-grade students can take a foundation course in digital technology that introduces them to relevant and emerging technologies, tools, and applications to prepare them for current workplace practices and everyday life. In seventh grade, PVMS students can learn about computing devices and software as problem-solving tools and take an introductory course in computer programming.

Eighth-grade students at PVMS will have the option of taking an additional Information Technology fundamentals class and a class in which the student designs, establishes, and operates a small group or class business, producing a service or product that meets an identified school or community need. These classes are not offered at Bluestone Middle School.

Older students at both Bluestone and Park View high schools will have opportunities to learn about careers in animal science and agriculture, electricity, cybersecurity, cosmetology, welding, HVAC, mechatronics, robotics, nursing, automotive technology, carpentry, culinary arts, education, marketing, information technology, aviation and fashion.

Parents of students enrolled in these programs are being asked to take a more active role in the development of their child’s career path trajectory. Additionally, parents will be informed about certifications awarded to the students.

As part of their history studies, high school students will be asked to complete a capstone project. According to the Virginia Department of Education, this is an independent study project chosen by the students that requires them to develop a final product that reflects their understanding or conclusions about the chosen topic.

High school students will for the first time be offered a class in African American history from the Colonial era to the present. Trustee Wanda Bailey asked school administrators to offer high school physics as an elective for students. It is not currently part of the curriculum.

Changes to the early release program will mandate that these releases, which are available only to qualifying seniors, be job or college-study related. Early release cannot be used to work at an hourly or short-term job that is not career development-related, absent a showing of family/financial hardship.

Virtual learning will continue to be an option for students in post-pandemic years, but on a limited basis. To enroll in a Virtual Virginia class, the student must have a “B” average or better and be pursuing an advanced studies diploma. Students will be limited to two Virtual Virginia courses per semester.

The school division will fully implement its innovation grant that was awarded to Mecklenburg County in 2019 by Gov. Ralph Northam. The grant allowed the school division to design a course of study that integrated instruction in multiple content areas with practical application that included internships and apprenticeships for students. Virtual learners will be able to participate in this program using simulations.

One change planned by the Virginia Department of Education that will not be mandated until the start of the 2026-27 school involves a complete overhaul of the math education program offered students in K-12.

Under the new program of students, students in grades K-7 will learn foundational mathematics concepts: numbers and number sense, computations and estimations, measurement and geometry, probability and statistics, and patterns, functions and algebra. These courses will prepare the students in grades 8-10 for what are deemed “essential mathematics concepts”: data analysis, mathematical modeling, function and algebra, spatial reasoning and probability.

Eleventh- and twelfth-grade students will study advanced mathematics concepts through courses in data science, trigonometric application, financial modeling, sets and logic, quantitative reasoning, computer science, calculus and statistics, among other topic areas.

Starting with the 2026-27 school year, this math program will a requirement to graduate. The program change came out of a study that looked at challenges in high school mathematics programs. According to the Virginia Department of Education, these changes will “ensure that all students have the mathematical experiences necessary for personal and professional success.”

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