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Back to the Future

posted Feb 24, 2010, 9:07 AM by Dan Dunbar   [ updated Feb 24, 2010, 6:39 PM ]
An article appeared in the New York Times last week that has stirred up a lot of interest and discussion in education and political circles. The article "High Schools to Offer Plan to Graduate 2 Years Early" is about proposals in eight states to graduate students who can successfully pass a series of tests at the end of tenth grade. Students who do not pass the exam in tenth grade would have opportunities to retake the exam in eleventh and twelfth grades. The rationale behind the plan is to have students prepare more seriously for college. Students would know exactly what they have to study to pass the exams and would be considered ready for college, thus reducing the number of remedial courses that high school graduates currently have to take in college. States like the idea because it might reduce the number of years students are in high school and thereby reduce the number of teachers needed. Plus, if students do not need as many remedial level college courses, less college teachers may be needed. It all boils down to spending less on teacher salaries. There is debate about whether sixteen-year-olds are ready to be out of high school and in college or the workforce and who sets the standards for early graduation and creates the tests.

So, why am I bringing this up? You may be wondering, "Is GGCA going to attempt something like this?" My reply is that I am not thinking about such a program at this time, but that I brought it up in order to talk about changes we have made in the GGCA high school program in the past couple of years.

When I became principal three years ago, I had just completed a second bachelor's degree at the University of Baltimore (UB), and that experience combined with the experience of earning my first degree twenty years earlier led me to plan a better college and workforce preparatory program here at GGCA. That is what I'd like to talk about today.

When I went to college back in the 1980s, personal computers were few and far between; nowadays, PCs are an everyday part of home, school, and business life. At UB, I discovered that I had to be computer savvy in order to complete and submit my coursework, and that some assignments could only be done online. I had to communicate with my professors via email and interactive web-based programs. Therefore, I knew it was important that GGCA students would get experience with computers. Our students now are required to earn certification in both Microsoft Word and Excel, we use web-based programs to communicate about homework and grades, and we send email to communicate and submit some assignments, just like they will in college and in the workforce.

Probably the most valuable course I took in Bible college in the early 1980s was apologetics. This course established my thinking about my Christian faith and prepared me for the onslaught of anti-Christian philosophies that are so prevalent on college campuses. I decided that apologetics was a necessary course in a Christian school that wanted its graduates to be fully equipped for college study; so we now have apologetics as part of our curriculum in the eleventh grade.

Two other courses that came out of my recent experience are the freshman Composition and sophomore Speech courses. I was surprised by the amount and types of writing I had to be able to do in all my college classes and by how often I had to prepare and give oral presentations. I read a 400 page novel in a math class and wrote a ten-page critique of it. I dressed up as Willy Wonka and appeared on a fake Oprah Winfrey show for a Human Resources class in order to do a presentation on labor relations (I, as Willy, was mistreating the Oompa Loompas at the chocolate factory according to the other guest - a disgruntled Oompa Loompa employee). Over and over again my instructors told me that employers decried the lack of communication skills in their employees and encouraged me to hone my writing and speaking skills. Thus, the composition and speech classes came into being at GGCA to help better prepare our graduates with skills they need for college study and the workforce.

Another change has been the shortening of the senior day. Our senior year now consists of a daily Bible class, English, physics, and a half-year each of economics and government. We also include physical education, computer, and any other classes that we deem necessary for students to fulfill for graduation. Next year's seniors will be taking apologetics since they haven't had it yet. We shortened the senior day, because we wanted the senior year to be a transition year from high school to the future, whether that future is the workforce, Bible college, or some other college or university. What we would like our seniors to do is take a college class or two their senior year to get their feet wet. I'd love it if all of our seniors would sign up for a college mathematics class and get one of their college requirements under their belts. By the time they finish their junior year's math course at GGCA, they should have prepared themselves enough to take and pass that college math class. As an alternative, seniors could also arrange an internship or an apprenticeship in a field related to a career they may wish to enter. Experience is hard to come by, but internships and apprenticeships are avenues to gain experience when you can afford to work for little to nothing. Students who aspire to attend Bible college here at MBC&S should sign up to take a class for credit as a senior and get themselves on the path to their Biblical studies degree!

So, while we are not going down the road to graduating students as sophomores, we are thinking progressively about how to best prepare our students for their futures while helping them learn and think with God about their lives in the present. I love our high school curriculum. It is balanced and exceeds the expectations of most colleges. If a student is motivated to apply him- or herself to learn and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the school and the ones offered in their churches, that student can be more than ready for the future!