State decisions drive Social Studies class changes at FHS

Freshman World History teacher Jennifer Richardson teaches her class about the American policy of containment during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. (Photo Credit: Lindsay Breslin)

Freshman World History teacher Jennifer Richardson teaches her class about the American policy of containment during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. (Photo Credit: Lindsay Breslin)

Several changes in Fairmont’s curriculum are in the works as a result of some decisions by the Ohio Department of Education. But the area that will see the impact first is the Social Studies Department, and the students impacted immediately will be the incoming freshmen.

“The state’s new requirements are driving a change in our course offerings,” explained Social Studies Department Chair Jessica Kelly. The driving force behind the changes is the elimination of the Ohio Graduation Test, the five-part test that this year’s sophomores just took this March.

This year’s freshmen, the Class of 2016, will be the last group to take the OGT in the spring of their sophomore year. The OGT, which was first administered in March 2005, will fade into history because the state is moving toward End of Course Exams as a graduation requirement beginning with the Class of 2017.

The Social Studies Department is making changes to its curriculum to help students be better prepared for those End of Course Exams.

That was then, this is now …

For the past several years, Fairmont freshmen have been required to take a yearlong World History class; the following year, they moved to a yearlong U.S. History course.

Since the standards for education are changing at the state level, many other local high schools will have to adjust their curriculum as well. Fairmont’s approach is to have a two-year transition period in which World History disappears and all classes essentially are bumped down a year. For example, U.S. History will be a freshman class in 2013-14. Since next year’s sophomores will be caught in the middle of the transition, they also will need to take U.S. History next year.

Kelly believes the change will be beneficial. “Students in 8th grade are learning U.S. History up through the Civil War and Reconstruction,” she said. “Starting next year, they will come to Fairmont and continue to learn U.S. History from Industrialization up through present time. This creates some continuity between 8th and 9th grade.”

World History will be coming back, but as an elective that will be offered to juniors and seniors. That option won’t be available until 2015-16, after the two transition years have been completed. Some students aren’t pleased by that change.

“World History at Fairmont wasn’t a very inclusive class, but it did give us a little bit of a background on history and how it affected our modern world,” said junior Ojimaojo Agada, who moved to the United States from Nigeria in his early childhood. “I am not happy with the focus on only the United States. I understand it is important, but we live in a world that is interconnected.”

Agada is glad World History eventually will return, but he’s concerned the signups will be low. “I feel like students won’t end up taking it as an elective their junior or senior year,” he said.

The changes to the curriculum also mean that incoming freshmen not only will take U.S. Government as sophomores, but the course will be a full-year course, instead of just one semester.

“We want to give U.S. Government students a full year to learn the material that will be covered on the End of Course Exam,” Kelly said. “This change will also allow students to spend junior and senior year focusing on International Baccalaureate classes, Advanced Placement classes or Career Tech programs.”

Changes for teachers, too

These changes will not only affect students, but teachers as well. Those who have been teaching World History will move to teaching either U.S. History or U.S. Government.

Fairmont Social Studies teacher Stephen McDonald feels conflicted about the change. “I’m disappointed students will no longer be taking World History as freshmen,” he said. “But I’m excited to teach a new course and I feel there are exciting new standards that will better help students understand American history in the country we live in.”

John Butchko, who teaches AP U.S. History to sophomores now, feels the changes will impact that class negatively.

“With APUSH being moved back as a junior and senior class, I feel that fewer kids will end up taking it because they’ve already taken a U.S. History class, or they’ll have trouble fitting it into their schedule,” said Butchko.

Changing curriculum is not an easy process and a lot is required out of faculty and students alike. Kelly said she wants to make sure that current sophomores understand that they need to have U.S. Government on their junior schedule. “Also, they should take their electives, if possible, as juniors,” she said.

Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf said he thinks the process will be a strain, but the goal is achievable. “The changes are going to make the curriculum more rigorous,” said VonHandorf. “But our teachers are smart and flexible, and I’m confident they will be able to adjust.”

A complete list of the required curriculum is indicated in the chart below.

social studies chart