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Snoqualmie school's freshman STEM exploratory scrapped for expanded math, science offerings

"We have been listening."

Principal John Belcher's announcement Thursday was both to the school board and to the broader community, in response to criticism leveled against proposed curriculum offerings at the district's future freshman campus.

At the school board's Thursday, Nov. 29, meeting, Belcher presented a revised slate of curriculum offerings, which scrapped the four-quarter exploratory classes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in favor of more traditional lab-based sciences and more classes now being given the STEM treatment.

"We do not want to give up on our focus for STEM," Belcher said, "for all the reasons you've already heard, for the job demands, the future and where education is going."

They did, however, want to address parents' concerns about the STEM exploratory requirement not being rigorous enough, about the availability of physical education classes, and about the need for a social studies offering.

The new freshman schedule will include language arts and algebra, as originally planned, plus two options for integrated science -- a full year of IS 1, or IS 1 and 2 combined, Belcher said, "for those students who are prepared and ready to push that hard."

STEM is still required, Belcher said, but students will have four options for meeting that requirement. The standard offering will be a semester of Project Lead the Way (www.pltw.org) curriculum, and a semester of a STEM-based physical education class being developed by district staff, called Fit for Life. Other options include a full year of Project Lead the Way, a full year of AP Human Geography (this class is a semester-based offering, but Belcher said the social studies staff wanted to stretch the course over the full year, since the AP exam is in the spring), or a full year of a STEM-based social studies class called "The Big History Project" (www.bighistoryproject.com).

Project Lead the Way and the Big History Project both provide curriculum materials free to participating districts, Belcher said, but they require teachers to attend specific training on the curriculum before they can teach it. Since these classes fall into the Career and Technical Education category, enhanced funding will be available to the district for these offerings.

Freshman will still have two electives, including foreign language. American Sign Language, French, German and Spanish will be available in classrooms, and any other language will be offered to students online, through the Snoqualmie Valley Virtual Academy (www.svsd410.org/schools/svva).

Board members had several questions about specific classes, and brought up a recurring question about what counts as a lab-based science. Belcher asked how he could reassure the board and the community that his proposals did meet those college requirements, "I haven't had anyone show me the evidence that a university wouldn't value integrated science compared to biology."

He added that he consulted with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and was told "It's a local decision on what is a lab-based science."

Also, he said, students who took either version of IS as freshmen would meet one lab science requirement, but they'd still need an algebra-based lab science class on their transcripts, which would be available in high school. He also noted that as freshman offerings became more advanced, the higher-level classes would have to follow suit.

Several board members expressed appreciation to Belcher for his hard work in addressing the concerns of the community, and most gave a verbal approval to the revised plan.

Student board member Connor Deutsch summed up many of their feelings with his comment, "It's great that there are so many different options because there's lots of different students … I think it went, kind of, from fixing problems at the freshman campus to fixing problems with Mount Si's curriculum. And now, these are really great offerings."

 

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