07/07/10 — Board OKs addition of new courses at four Wayne County schools

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Board OKs addition of new courses at four Wayne County schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 7, 2010 1:46 PM

Three elective courses will be added at four area schools this fall -- including a philosophy class, a pilot course in cultural diversity and a career readiness program.

The Board of Education approved the offerings Tuesday night, and signed a memorandum of agreement for the district's second graduation coach to be hired at Southern Wayne High School.

Introduction to Western Philosophy will be on the schedule at Wayne School of Engineering.

Principal Gary Hales and three of the school's teachers presented the request to the board.

Teacher Tyler Gatlin said the idea sprung from a shared interest in philosophy among the educators.

"It's the foundation of all content areas," he explained. "We put together this course with the idea of exposing students to these foundational ideas."

The premise of the course is to expose students to a multitude of prominent philosophical thinkers and analyze the way their ideas have shaped modern thought. Outcomes include not only helping students read at a higher level, but be better prepared for college-level discussions.

"The kids show interest to us and really, we talk about this because it's core in all of our classes," said T.J. Lancaster, a history teacher at the school. "It just ties in well and students have shown real interest ... they want a deeper appreciation."

"We're trying to advance our kids as much as possible," Hales added.

Board member George Moye asked if there would be any additional cost to the district to add the course. Hales said there would be none.

"Even if it did, it's a higher level of thinking. It would be worth the cost," said Thelma Smith, vice chairman of the board.

Moye said in an era when schools are able to graduate students with two years of college credit under their belt, it makes sense to include courses that provoke deeper thinking.

"I think it would be unfair to graduate from high school and be a junior in college and never have had something like this," he said. "There's lots and lots of reasons for doing it and I can't think of any reason not to."

Two middle schools, Dillard and Greenwood, will be adding Global Connections this fall, an elective that has already been approved by the state Department of Education.

"We have been afforded a wonderful opportunity to pilot Global Connections in the eighth grade," said Hope Meyerhoeffer, who directs the English as a Second Language, visual arts, English and language arts programs in the district. "Everything has been prepared for the teachers -- lessons plans, activities ... it's very thorough.

"The thing that really caught my attention was the fact that it integrated all the standards for social studies, mathematics, language arts, science and technology."

The district has long tried to "go global" but it's been a challenge, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said. This course will afford teachers at the two schools the opportunity to be more expansive, focusing on such major regions as Asia, Africa, Central and South America, Russia and Europe.

One of the unique aspects is that it must be taught by a teacher from another country. This will be attainable, since the district already employs foreign teachers through the Visiting International Faculty program.

"VIF will do the staff development for these two teachers. They will also monitor and observe them," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said.

And everything comes at no additional cost to the district, she noted. Any books that need to be purchased will come from her ESL budget, she said.

"When you look at what these students will achieve by being part of this course, in every unit they will be doing communication and collaboration both orally and written -- they will be taught how to look at different views or issues; they will be able to compare their culture with other cultures," she said.

The third course approved by the board was an expansion of the Career Readiness WorkKeys program introduced at Goldsboro High School last year. Barbara Wilkins, the school's graduation coach, used the computer software program in her efforts with seniors at the school.

The program addressed many areas the students struggled with -- applied math, reading, interpersonal skills and teamwork, to name a few.

It soon became apparent, however, that other students would benefit from the program, said Sudie Davis, director of Communities in Schools, which spearheaded the move to bring a graduation coach to the school. Surveys done at the completion of the program reflected strong opinions on the subject, she said.

"Our seniors that worked in the WorkKeys program always said, 'I sure wish that I had this as a freshman,'" she said. "The earlier we can introduce this, the better they will be prepared the following three years."

The program is self-paced and self-guided, Mrs. Davis said. But more could be added, such as having presenters from the business community and the public to direct students in their preparation for further education or entering the workforce.

Starting in the freshman year, the class would be compatible with whatever pathway the student is enrolled in at the school, Mrs. Davis said.

Class size will be between 25 and 30 each semester, targeting students "in the middle" -- the school has a strong EC, or exceptional children, department, which already works with that range of students, while the top level students likely have support from home, she explained.

Mrs. Smith praised Mrs. Wilkins for having elicited student input.

"This survey was a bold move -- children are going to be honest," she said. "(Having such a class for freshman) is what they're asking for, and this is what we need to provide."

The graduation coach initiative proved to be successful, Mrs. Davis told the board, with all 28 targeted at-risk seniors graduating at year's end.

The county commission's recent approval of hiring a second graduation coach, at Southern Wayne High School, will just be a continuation of those good results, said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Both coaches funded by the county, the district will enter into the same memorandum of agreement with the two schools -- basically having to provide an office, a phone and Internet access, Dr. McCullen said.

According to the agreement, the graduation coach's role is to coordinate services and serve as liaison between school administrators, agencies and volunteers. They also recruit and train volunteers to serve as tutors and mentors.

The ultimate goal, in addition to ensuring students complete high school and receive a diploma, is that students will also acquire a marketable skill to use upon graduating.