Changing course options for middle, high school students

Students at area schools will have new options when course registration rolls around this year, and Liz Parker hopes they'll be more informed about those opportunities too.

Parker is Williamsburg-James City County's Coordinator of School Counseling Programs and at the School Board's Tuesday meeting, she shared an updated Program of Studies for the division, a document that details academic and career planning for middle and high school students.

It's typically reviewed every two years, but with changes happening quickly, particularly with virtual learning, Parker said she wants to revisit it on a yearly basis.

One big change is coming at the middle school level.

Students currently can choose between semester-long electives and year-long electives, but starting in 2017-18, only the year-long options will be offered.

The change will mean fewer schedule configurations, Parker said, which translates to fewer scheduling conflicts for students. In seventh and eighth grades this year, a scheduling conflict is preventing students from taking two popular electives.

"Because of those small tweaks in formats, students no longer have to choose between taking a (career and technical education) course or world language, which they have to do now," Parker said. "It's just opening up their options and opportunities."

Having more students and parents better understand what the division offers is why she took on a revision of the program out of turn, even though it had been updated during the last school year.

Parker highlighted updates including explanations of fees and withdrawing from a course, and revisions to course names and descriptions. Many of the changes were in the wording of the document or to add indicators that career certifications are available for certain courses.

"I really want to start making our Program of Studies a really valuable tool for what students and families will use when planning," Parker said. "I want all students to be aware of all opportunities they have here at WJCC."

Changes at the high school level included removing American studies courses in English and in social studies, and removing computer science due to a lack of student interest, Parker said.

"Students instead of that class, are taking the advanced American studies," Parker said. "They're taking a more rigorous option, and more advanced option."

She said the same was true of computer science: students were coming to high school at a high level, and therefore didn't enroll in the computer science course.

One concern Lisa Ownby (JCC Powhatan) raised was information on Project Lead the Way, a career and technical education program offered only at Warhill High School.

She questioned whether students from Jamestown and Lafayette high schools could also enroll, as they can with Warhill's Pathways program.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful opportunity that shouldn't be limited to students who are zoned for Warhill," Julie Hummel (Williamsburg) said.

Parker said students from Lafayette and Jamestown can take part if they apply to completely transfer to Warhill. Ownby said she wants that to be stated clearly in the program.

"We need to make that clear," Ownby said. "So that people have a full understanding of the accessibility and the caps and the limits, but that it is open to the division."

The board members are expected to vote on the revised program at their Jan. 17 meeting.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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