Students face important, but stressful, scheduling choices

Students face important, but stressful, scheduling choices

South Unit Guidance Counselor Larry Lamb and junior Monica Wagner confer on a schedule for next year.

As students, teachers and counselors settle in for the second half of the school year, they’re all looking toward one major process at Fairmont: scheduling.

This process, which occurs during the first week in February, is when students determine what classes they will take next year. Often, however, students find themselves confused as to which classes are right for them. Between required core classes and a plethora of electives, scheduling is one of Fairmont’s biggest – and most burdensome – events, next to exams and testing.

In preparation for this important week, The Flyer has asked the questions to help you make the right decisions for next year.

At Fairmont, classes are divided in a variety of ways. A student can take English classes, mathematics classes, social studies classes, science classes, foreign language classes, music classes, art classes, a Career Tech program, Advanced Placement (AP) classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. 

To graduate from high school, students need a specific number of credits and a certain number of different types of classes. A student needs 4 credits to become a sophomore, 9 to become a junior, 13.5 to become a senior, and 21.5 to graduate. In addition to this, students need 4 credits of English; 3 credits of social studies, including U.S. History and U.S. Government; 3 units of science, including a life science and physical science; 3 credits of math (4 credits for the current freshmen); 1 credit of Health/P.E.; 1 credit of business, technology, fine arts or foreign language; and 6.5 credits of electives.

AP vs. IB vs. Career Tech

The sophomores face an especially daunting array of decisions during scheduling week. That’s because the junior year is when students are generally eligible to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes, International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and/or enter a two-year Career Tech program. (One exception to this rule is AP U.S. History, which is taken sophomore year. In addition, students who prove themselves capable may be able to sign up for AP or IB classes early.)

At FHS, the benefits of these three course paths are numerous. The Career Tech programs are by application and offer the possibility of a $3,000 scholarship to Sinclair Community College, while AP courses offer college credit in return for an advanced course load and a particular score on the AP exam – typically a 3, 4, or 5 – at the end of the year. A third path is the IB Programme, which many colleges honor as credit for entry, as with AP credit.

Fairmont English Department Chair Penni Meyer feels that for some students, AP classes might be a better choice than IB classes. “AP is better known,” she said. “It’s what students are more familiar with.”

Meyer also mentioned that the AP classes are easier to commit to. “The classes allow you to just take the class and take the exam. With the IB Diploma Programme, you take many classes that are centralized around the Diploma.”

Junior Mary Kate MacLean has opted for taking AP classes rather than the Diploma Programme. “I feel like AP classes are more open,” she said. “I feel like IB classes restrict my options at high school.” She also feels AP classes are more widely recognized. “Most colleges know AP classes and will more readily accept them for credit.”

Fairmont IB Coordinator Pat Fife knows of the benefits of all three course paths. “Career Tech is made for students who want to go into a two-year, and then four-year school with on-the-job training,” she said. “AP has a national curriculum, so you’re taking the same English class as everyone else in AP classes. If you do well on your AP exam, you can get college credit.”

Fife also described the IB Programme and its benefits. “IB has an international curriculum, so you’re taking the same classes as people around the world,” she said. “You have the option to take the course, take the test and get college credit, so in that regard, it is like AP.”

However, Fife believes that IB takes the curriculum further. “The IB Diploma Programme is a two-year program where you take a series of several classes and then take several exams at the end of the year,” she said. “If you do earn the IB Diploma, it is usually regarded as a step up from AP classes and exams. Having the Diploma says that you’ve taken this series of accelerated and rigorous classes and have completed the service and extended essay requirements. It’s a bit more involved.”

Junior Christine Menchen is pursuing the IB Diploma. “It offers more of a challenge than what I saw from the AP classes,” she said.

Junior Marie Johnson is also working to earn the Diploma. “The Diploma emphasizes going overseas, and I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said. “IB also offers two years of Biology, which I like for my career.”

Johnson also mentioned that the Diploma could help her jumpstart her college career. “Some colleges will automatically make you a sophomore when you get in with the Diploma,” she said.

Robin Holweger, Fairmont’s Marketing teacher, said the Career Tech program is the way to go if students are looking for something in a specific area, such as Marketing, Automotives, Digital Design or Engineering, in addition to the other multitude of classes at Fairmont. “I’m a Career Tech teacher, so of course I’m going to promote that, but I think all of the programs are good for students,” she said. “It really comes down to the students sitting down and figuring out what they’re going to do in life.”

As a Career Tech teacher, Holweger knows all about the advantages of Career Tech. “It’s very focused, and it gives you a relationship with what you’re going to do later in life,” she said. “You also get a $3,000 scholarship to Sinclair if you meet the criteria, and that offers up to two years at Sinclair basically free.”

Senior Russ Mantia has been a member of the Interactive Media class for two years. “It’s definitely helped prepare me for the design and film career fields,” he said. “It’s given me the skills I need for that career field. I’ve definitely learned what I need to go into one of those careers.”

Junior Sierra Tudor is a new student in the Digital Design Career Tech program. “I’m much more constructed in my work,” she said. “You learn a lot of stuff you don’t normally learn in normal classes.”

Why is it so serious?

Some students look at scheduling week as just another week at school; however, others strongly disagree.

South Unit Counselor Lois Isaacs knows first-hand how scheduling can affect students, both in high school and beyond. “I’ve met with seniors many times who haven’t put much thought into their schedules,” she said. “The result of it all is that, sadly, their options for college are limited.”

Isaacs has often found herself trying to help students who wish they could have redone their freshman and sophomore years. “It’s sad because freshmen don’t always have direction,” she said. “They end up possibly having to start in a community college after high school, and backtrack and even take remedial classes to get into what they want to major in.”

Holweger agrees that scheduling can be difficult. “Sometimes, freshmen and sophomores don’t know what they want to do, and it really affects their high school career,” she said. “It really helps if they can figure out what they want to do early. Students need to take a realistic look at what they want to do versus what they can do.”

Isaacs often gives advice to students who are new to scheduling. “Take as rigorous and as carefully thought-out schedules as you can take,” she said, “so you don’t end up eliminating anything in your future … so you have options.”