Monomoy Drops Government From Grad Requirements

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: Monomoy Regional School District , Education

Entrance to Monomoy Regional High School.

HARWICH Upperclassmen at Monomoy Regional High School will find a new set of graduation requirements and a slightly changed curriculum after the school committee voted 5-3 to approve changes that will begin in the next school year.

The new graduation requirements lower the amount of credits necessary to graduate from 100 to 94, and bring about a slightly different curriculum that makes government class an elective rather than a requirement, a move that didn’t sit well with some.

“Every student should have civics, and the government class here is a civics class,” said Judith Underwood, parent of an MRHS student. “It’s really one of the best courses I’ve ever seen. Quite frankly when you’re marketing this high school, that should be part of your marketing plan.”

The plan to alter the school’s graduation requirements and restructure the curriculum was first presented to the committee weeks ago in a presentation by MRHS Principal Bill Burkhead, who noted that in comparison to other Cape and Islands high schools, and some schools off-Cape, Monomoy’s requirements have been in excess of what most schools offer.

“What we’re seeing right now is that this is really hurting our kids,” Burkhead said, adding when Chatham and Harwich regionalized, the requirements of each school were merged. “We haven’t adapted our graduation requirements.”

Under the current setup, Monomoy requires four years and 16 credits each of English, math, social studies, and science, two years and eight credits of a world language, two courses worth two credits each of fine and performing arts, and eight credits of wellness.

Both the social studies and science requirements are above the recommendation of MassCore, which mandate three years and 12 credits of social studies, and three courses with labs, or 12 credits, of science.

The new curriculum will include four years/16 credits each of English and math, three years/12 credits of social studies, three years with labs/12 credits of science, two years/eight credits of world language, four credits of fine/performing arts, and eight credits of wellness. Students must also take one additional core course – social studies, science, or a world language, during their senior year.

Burkhead and Guidance Department Head Jennifer Police said the rationale behind the change includes making it easier for upperclassmen to take electives more closely aligned with their post-graduation career goals.  

“We’re a small high school but we offer a robust program of studies that rivals Barnstable High School, Nauset, and schools twice this size,” said Police. “The blessing is we offer a lot of courses. The curse is we can’t get all the kids that essentially want them, into them.”

Police cited as examples students having to take certain academic classes online since they conflict with arts electives, including a student who had to conduct advanced placement chemistry experiments in her kitchen while taking the online course as it coincided with a music class.

“We’re just asking that we can do this to provide a better pathway for all of our students,” Police said. “Give the kids a little more flexibility without getting rid of too many things.”

David Alexander, head of the social studies department, expressed confidence that students would still seek out government class as an elective.

“These changes and impact have been discussed in our department two years and were unanimously approved,” Alexander said. “We predict a very healthy turnout for students to choose to take government.”

The change also allows MRHS to create a global studies program, which would allow interested students to pursue a global studies diploma. Superintendent Scott Carpenter said that a list of courses across departments will be created, with students taking a required number of them to obtain the global studies diploma.

“We are evolving and becoming one of the premiere visionary schools on Cape Cod with the global studies program,” said Burkhead. “That’s something that is rare, that other schools don’t offer, that we will be offering.”

Burkhead said the school’s social studies program will be boosted by the new program.

“Our social studies program will just get stronger with this, which is why the Social Studies department supports this,” he said.

But there were those who expressed concerns with the changes. Committee member Sharon Stout said she felt like the most important aspects of government are taught during senior year and questioned making the class an elective.

“Government is taught in kindergarten through grade 12,” said Alexander. “It seeps into every class I teach. I think we’re doing what we can do in the reality that we are facing. But in order to do things you need to make tough choices. It takes a long time to see the bigger picture. It takes a while to wrap your mind around something when you don’t see the bigger picture.”

Committee member Karen Ryder questioned why the changes in curriculum weren’t brought up when the committee took action on the global studies program weeks ago, and said she would have asked for other options than having government class become an elective.

“I certainly would have asked for other proposals,” she said. “I am not against global studies whatsoever, but not at the cost of government. It’s just as important if not more important than global studies.”

“The ends don’t justify all the means,” added Stout. “It just seems as though there is some other way other than this. I think we’re losing something important. What’s taught in that class is not taught at any other time. We are tonight, if we don’t vote for government, being derelict in our duties. A lot of the things we’re doing are not necessary. What’s being taught in government is necessary to be a good voter.”

Burkhead responded by explaining that the global studies program and subsequent curriculum changes under the new graduation requirements was thoroughly vetted.

“This was unanimously supported by all departments, the principal, and teachers. We know what’s best for our kids,” he said. “This is good for our kids. It puts us at a distinct advantage. This change is well thought out. How I would want my own child to receive this education.”

The motion passed with a 5-3 vote, with Ryder, Stout and Donna Richardson voting no, and committee chairman Brian Widegren proving the tiebreaker.