Since September, a committee of administrators and social studies teachers from around the district have collaborated to revise and update the district’s social studies department and curriculum. Every few years, a department comes up for review, and a committee must review aspects like its curriculum, methods of instruction, sequences, and resources. “The committee was charged with recommended revisions and enhancements to ensure a comprehensive, coherent, integrated, and developmentally appropriate program that is aligned with state standards and accepted best practices,” wrote Timothy Charleston, Supervisor of Social Studies and Global Education for pre-K to eighth grade, in an email.
In order to make informed opinions reflecting the interests and concerns of the community, the committee relied on focus groups comprised of students, parents, and other community members. On May 3, Charleston sent an email to district parents asking anyone interested to fill out a Google Form, and the focus groups of around 12–16 people met on May 17 and May 18. “The focus groups were designed to meet with parents and with community members to gather their input for the program,” Charleston wrote. “We asked the groups three questions focused on their goals for the program, [we asked] what has worked well and what they would like to see improved with the program.”
Using input from these groups as well, the committee looked into new diverse approaches to learning. “There was also a huge emphasis on pedagogy and bringing in things like project-based learning. Could we bring in things like interdisciplinary studies? Could we bring in real-world learning?” said Media Specialist Jennifer Bigioni.Students also expressed interest in having more research-based learning. “I think it would be really beneficial because a lot of kids who are interested in history or social studies who want to go into this potentially could have more of an experience … [and] more of a taste of what they’d be doing in the future, which could maybe impact what they’re going to do in college and maybe for the rest of their lives,” said Amanda Van Dyck ’18.
Several students have expressed frustration at the requirement of taking two years of American history at the high school. “I think that there should definitely be a lot less United States history-based stuff such as making everyone take two years,” said Alex Cohen ’18. “I think freshmen should have the opportunity to take APUSH instead of making people for the whole first semester of APUSH review stuff they already did the first year.”
Instead, many would like to see a greater emphasis on world history throughout elementary, middle, and high school. “In elementary school I think it would have been more beneficial to take a wide variety or to learn more about different types of history instead of just the American Revolution because there’s so much more than just that,” Van Dyck said. “For example, I didn’t learn much about European history, but I’m planning on taking that course next year, and while I may be prepared for United States history courses, I think other ones I don’t have as much of a background in, so that could be expanded upon.”
Another possibility is the addition of more social studies electives, including electives focusing on geography or politics. “I think that one of the most exciting things for the high school is a possible change or expansion … of electives,” said history teacher Chip Casto. “I’m hoping to get any sort of geography elective, even if it’s every two years or every three years—just something that allows teachers to grow a little more, teach to their strengths, do what they love.”
Many students would like to see a change in the variety of courses available at the high school level, especially for upperclassmen. “I think there could be more courses offered because right now there are a lot but I think at the same time, it’s pretty limited,” Van Dyck said. “Right now I’m looking at independent studies in social studies and history and politics areas because what I’m interested in, there isn’t necessarily a set course that goes into that.”
The committee made their recommendations to the Student Achievement Committee of the Board of Education, which starts the next stage of the process; however, substantial changes will likely require a great deal of planning. “It’ll take, I’m sure, several years to implement various changes because there’s curriculum rewrites and looking at new courses, and all those different things take awhile,” Bigioni said.
While there are changes in the making, the general structure of the social studies curriculum and sequence will likely remain the same. “I love teaching world history to freshmen so they get that perspective before they move on to US, but I know plenty of people do it the way we do it, and I think our staff wants to keep it the way it is and I can understand that,” Casto said. “I think the core courses are all going to stay the same, time frames will stay the same.”