High school just isn’t what it used to be. Classes like shop, home economics or even Shakespeare have been dropped from the schedule. In their place are electives like Principles of Entrepreneurship, Augmented Reality, Race in America and more.
“Our courses prepare students for a world that is coming,” says Rick Tate, Assistant Director of the Upper School for Teaching and Learning at Hawken School in Gates Mills.
Ten years ago, the private school changed its educational calendar. Today, students have four academic periods — two traditional periods or semesters that last 16 weeks and two three-week “intensive” periods. The first and third periods/semesters include a relatively traditional rotation of classes. The second and fourth periods are designated intensives. During these weeks students drop all other classes and immerse themselves in a single course.
“Students become deeply engaged in areas that they’re passionate about and prepare for their world,” says Tate. Unlike traditional classes, intensives take a deep dive and integrate multiple disciplines. An opportunity to study Spanish language and culture may include time in a South American country. In another course, a variety of information technology and marketing skills are used to design an app worthy of publishing in the Apple store. Meanwhile math and social sciences are exercised in Presidential Politics and Gerrymandering as students prepare an equitable districting map for submission to The Ohio General Assembly. And those are just a mere sampling of the opportunities students may have during four years at Hawken Upper School.
Even traditional courses aren’t what they used to be. Class offerings include Quantitative Reasoning where students apply math to real world problems or Pursuit of Justice which explores the judicial system and, last year, included a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We connect with a teacher’s passion and student’s interest,” says Tate. “Every year 25 percent of English and history courses change because there’s something new happening. It’s not that the Shakespeare course wasn’t interesting or powerful, but there’s so much demand for more applicable courses. The Shakespeare class isn’t completely gone, it just gets to compete in the cycle with other offerings with greater relevancy.”
Forward-looking courses are part of the ever-emerging curriculum at Laurel School in Shaker Heights as well. “We have opportunities to make sure our girls are getting a unique experience that will serve them well,” says Megan Weiskopf.
The variety of new opportunities at Laurel prepare young women for both college and life. For those interested in STEM careers, the school has introduced Differential Equations and Linear Algebra, the math used by scientists and engineers. This complex math course comes after AB/BC calculus and Honors Multivariable Calculus. History of Medicine is a humanities-based course that gives an edge to young women considering medical careers.
A Testimony Theater Class brings together history, arts and social justice. Students must interview someone in the community about their life experiences; for example, the Holocaust. Then, they create an original theater performance to bring that experience to an audience of students, parents and teachers.
The Principles of Entrepreneurship class, brand new for 2020-2021, asks students to identify problems in the marketplace and create solutions using design thinking. Girls will write business plans, analyze case studies, and participate in entrepreneurship competitions as part of the class.
At Saint Ignatius High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Cleveland, the curriculum integrates theology with an up-to-date academic program, says Roger Stewart, assistant principal for academics.
Like other schools, the language program has shifted in recent years to languages that may be more important in business applications. For example, German has been replaced with Chinese language classes. And Arabic could be on the horizon.
With an eye to current events and social justice the school is refocusing its literature-based African-American Studies to a history/current events focus titled Race in America. This will be taught by the new vice president of diversity and equity inclusion.
The school day isn’t enough to incorporate all the opportunities students need. So, Saint Ignatius High School has an extensive program of extracurricular activities. Among the newest additions is the Saint Ignatius Broadcasting Network (SIBN). This began with students calling football games and is now a regular program broadcast over the internet. That enables distant family and alums to follow football games.
“SIBN is a piece of our soft curriculum that feeds our formal curriculum,” says Stewart.