Over the course of the past few years, the Messalonskee High School curriculum has undergone a significant transformation. With the addition of new courses in nearly every department, several specialized seminars, dual enrollment options and Virtual High School, MHS gives students a wide variety of ways to attain graduation. While certain requirements remain, the expanded curriculum offers greater voice and choice and a variety of pathways to success.
As always, certain course work is pretty much non-negotiable for graduation from MHS even as graduation requirements begin shifting toward being standards based. The graduating classes of 2016 and 2017 must earn 23 credits including 4 credits in English, 4 credits in Math, 3 in Science, 3 in social studies, 1 in Fine Arts, and .5 each in health and JMG Career Prep.
In addition to a traditional transcript, graduates of 2018 and beyond will be working with standards based diplomas that focus on attaining proficiency in the content areas of ELA, Math, Science and Social Studies while still working toward proficiency in other areas by completing credits in Visual and Performing Arts, Health and PE, World Languages, Technology, and Career and Ed Development and require 40 hours of community service during high.
In addition, students who are planning to attend a four year college should be aware of further requirements that some colleges will expect, such as more advanced maths and sciences, higher level English courses and a certain amount of foreign language.
The new program of studies provides a template to help students understand their options and make the best course selection for their level of learning and future goals. While none of the learning experiences have hard and fast pre-requisites that must be met, and any student can sign up for any class, their success depends on prior learning experiences. The new program offers clear scaffolding with options at multiple levels of learning. According to principal Jon Moody, “what the program of studies does is provide students with a smorgasbord of choices from which they can meet their requirements for graduation and tailor their High School experience to best meet the needs of what they expect to do with their post-secondary education.”
Messalonskee is continuing to use the dual-grading system in both Power School and Empower to truly reflect the learning experience as a whole and the standards completed within each learning experience. Standards are contextual, and how a standard is accomplished in one class may be very different from how it is accomplished in a higher level course. As Mr. Moody puts it, “the application of that standard in the context of that content is unique and should be scored as such. When a student meets mastery, however, it’s considered mastery.” In other words, once a student has mastered a standard, they no longer need to certify in that standard in other classes for graduation, but they still need to demonstrate that they can apply the standard in the new context. Using both Empower and Power School allows us to clearly show both forms of learning progress.
The Digital Program of Studies includes links to learning experience templates for each class which include the course description, expected topics, standards covered, and suggested prerequisite standards that students should have met to be successful in the course.
Dual Enrollment Courses
In addition to the new program of studies, MHS is expanding its offerings of dual enrollment courses. While students have long had the option of taking college courses that count toward high school graduation, more and more colleges are now accepting credits from dual enrollment classes offered at high schools. With individual undergraduate college classes in the UMaine system costing an average of $837, dual enrollment classes are a good way to save time and money.
Students who have taken the dual enrollment courses at MHS seem to appreciate the additional rigor and the benefits of taking college level work without having to leave campus. One student, senior Alec Curie, who had only done off site dual enrollment courses voiced the frustration he ran into when he couldn’t get ahold of the professor for his online course. “Having someone to talk to [on site when] you need help is probably the best.”
Last year Messalonskee offered 4 dual enrollment classes and anticipates offering at least 9 for the 2016-2017 school year. Dual enrollment options will exist in ASL, English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and Technology. They can be found in the Digital Program of Studies by looking for the (DE) designation at the end of the course title. For a student to be enrolled in a DE cours he or she must be in good academic standing, have a history of success in standards in that content area, and must be approved by the administration.
One final option that continues to benefit students in multiple ways is Virtual High School. Messalonskee High School’s involvement with VHS is in its 8th year. The virtual high school’s flexible schedule and broad range of course offerings pair perfectly with the school’s vision, and provide the students with a lot of opportunities to stretch and challenge their learning in different ways. VHS is one of many online options for students at Messalonskee, but it’s the only one we’ll pay for.
VHS classes are an excellent option for students who wish to take courses that are not available at MHS or who need to take a class that does not fit into their schedule for one reason or another. VHS can also help students recover credits or even graduate early. Middle school students who are working ahead of pace have even used VHS to get a jump on high school material.
Keith Derosby is the site coordinator for MHS and while he runs off the official report on a weekly basis, he logs in nearly every day to keep an eye on student progress. The official report and spreadsheet is shared with administration and school counselors on a weekly basis. Counselors can then meet with students who are struggling in order to see what further assistance is needed.
This year the district has implemented a new accountability policy concerning VHS. Students who drop after the add/drop period is over or who fail classes will be charged for their seats in the VHS class. When this occurs the student’s counselor makes contact with the parents.
Currently between 80 to 100 MHS students a year are taking advantage of the opportunity to enroll in a an online class. The majority of the classes they choose are electives or AP courses that are not currently offered at Messalonskee. A training session is set up for students at the beginning of each semester to help them learn the software used for the courses.
Students report that they love the flexibility that it adds to their schedule, but the courses can be even more challenging than those taken in the traditional classroom due to the lack of one to one instruction available and the responsibility placed on the individual student. The district is hoping to increase their online offerings in coming years and is also hoping to be able to provide additional support for students using the system for credit recovery.
Article by Mandi Favreau, MHS ELA teacher & co-drama director since 2002