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Housatonic ahead of state curve in course offerings

FALLS VILLAGE — Three department chairs made presentations to the Region One Board of Education during the regular monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 7, at Housatonic Valley Regional High School.Nur Abdulhayoglu, speaking for the Science Department, said the science teachers as a group hold a wide range of certifications — including biology, earth science, chemistry, physics and general science.And she said Housatonic is ahead of a new state curriculum requirement that high school students must take three years of science. That is scheduled to take effect in 2018. “So we’re seven years ahead of the curve,” said Abdulhayoglu.She added that the department’s range of elective courses is unusually broad. Options include chemistry, advanced placement biology, physics, pre-engineering (next year), environmental science, marine biology, earth science and forensic science.Forensic science is very popular, she said, in part because “it’s a hands-on application” of scientific technique.Damon Osora of the English Department was similarly enthusiastic about course offerings, and said that the department is considering expanding popular semester courses to full-year courses. “We asked the kids and they said they loved the classes, but there was too much content and too little time.”He said that over the summer teachers in the district met to discuss ways to make the transition from eighth grade English to freshman English easier.Then the state issued new curriculum standards in July — “rendering much of our work moot.”“It’s not a bad change, though.” Osora said he was pleased that performance indicators had been updated, something he said was overdue.The department is considering adding a nonfiction course next year, and the 10th grade classes are working specifically on material that will help with the Reading and Writing Across Disciplines section of the state Academic Performance Tests.Last up was Pete Vermilyea, from the Social Studies Department.“The 2018 curriculum requirements do not affect us,” he said. “We’re already doing it.”Housatonic students take a year of non-Western history, for instance.Senior electives include psychology, economics, sociology and philosophy, and popular courses include modern American history and modern European history.Students still write traditional term papers “as they always have probably and always will,” but the department is no stranger to technology. Students working on oral histories interview their subjects, and the audio is saved in the MP3 format.The audio is then combined with photographs and commentary. The net effect “is not unlike a Ken Burns documentary,” said Vermilyea.And on the research papers, teachers are assessing students every step of the way — through picking a topic, developing a thesis, and embarking on the research.

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