West’s Core Program: Enrichment, or Deprivation?

This anonymous entry is from a current 9th grader at West who shares their thoughts about the proposed changes in 10th grade English as well as lets us know how the current 9th grade core is experienced by students.

I am writing from the viewpoint of a gifted and talented 9th grader at West High who is stuck in the core program of English and History 9. “Stuck” is the perfect word for my situation. I am stuck in classes where brilliance is not only limited, but discouraged. I have been reprimanded by teachers for exceeding their expectations. Does West want to be a school known for restricting its gifted students?

I have been a student in the core program for two months, and I refuse to be a part of it for two years. In these classes, learning plateaus with an “A”. There should be levels of education beyond an easy A, which is all the core programs have to offer me or my classmates. Following a rigid schedule of note-taking, book-reading, and discussions which fail to be in-depth or even comprehensive, English 9 is a class in which gifted students’ intelligence recedes, instead of grows. There is frequent homework, but it is busy work which only requires time, not brain power. I have not once felt challenged in one of my core classes, and I was looking forward to honors courses sophomore year, where I could thrive in a challenging environment among other gifted students. Instead I was informed that “English 10” would be invoked in West’s new core program. I fail to see the benefits of this. This means another year of all of West’s gifted and talented students being stuck in classes where they do not learn, where they do not grow, and where they do not excel. I urge everyone who cares about the freshman class of West, please protest the creation of English 10. All current freshmen will suffer because of this. I write not only to represent the gifted students of West trapped in English 9, but students of all intelligence. I have not met one person who enjoys English 9, and those who are challenged by it are not challenged by an invigorating curriculum or challenging, thought-provoking discussions, but instead by unclear directions or annoying busy work. There should be an alternative to the core program offered, whether it is a class students must test into or simply abandoning the idea of the 10th grade core program, a decision which I am confident to say most freshman at West would vote for.
The most recent information I obtained about the English core program was that there would be one honors class offered. I was not impressed by “assets” of this class, which seemed not to offer anything extra. Two days a week, half of the student’s lunches would be dedicated to working with the teacher, and more homework would be given to the students despite the similar curriculum. This seems like punishment to the honors students, and would discourage students from wanting to be in this class. I also doubt the effectiveness of giving more work, because the work would most likely be busy work similar to the homework in English 9. I cannot envision a class at west in which the homework given was challenging and thought-provoking. I believe English 10 honors would only be an English 10 class with more homework. I see no benefits of invoking the English core program at West.

4 thoughts on “West’s Core Program: Enrichment, or Deprivation?”

  1. Dear West 9th grader–
    Well-voiced, well-written and well-argued! Your classmates and their parents should be inspired to join you in insisting on the vital changes in the core curriculum.
    But if they fear rocking the boat, and at West that is a genuine fear, don’t lose heart. Keep reading–there are on-line courses and options through WCATY, for instance. If your family can afford it, go to UW for classes as a special student, or through Youth Options. Or home school, taking what classes you want at West, UW or on-line—this is not a stigma in college admission, in fact, can be an asset depending on how you assemble your portfolio.
    Don’t lose heart—there is life after high school, a chance to soar using those wonderful gifts all too often West tries to squelch.

  2. This letter should be published in the Journal and sent to the school board.
    While Joan makes some good suggestions, I feel outraged every time someone suggest I should send my child to school for 7 hours a day, then after their extracurricula activities and assigned homework, we as a family should spend more time in my childs day to educate them. Why send them to school that long? As an adult do you like coming home from work to spend more time working and seeking out ways to do more work? On both ends of the scale, struggling students and high achieving students, parents spend enourmous amounts of money and time trying to do what the schools should be doing. There is a reason there is an achievement gap…..Parents with time and money can add to their childs education and those without time or resources can’t. We should be educating all the students and not dumbing down the curriculm.

  3. You’re absolutely right, Mary. It has been my experience, though, that most families do not engage in the kind of advocacy that would result in meaningful change. There are lots of reasons for this passivity, some of them good, some not. My post was to offer encouragement to the student, to offer alternatives because for her or him, the changes won’t happen fast or soon enough.
    And let’s hope that the energy and power of those in this group will help improve our younger students’ experience.

  4. I have to agree with Mary: “I feel outraged every time someone suggest I should send my child to school for 7 hours a day, then after their extracurricula activities and assigned homework, we as a family should spend more time in my child’s day to educate them.” This is happening to our family already at the elementary level, and is only made worse by the fact that one of our highly gifted children also has Asperger Syndrome, and could not attend the Summer programs available in IL or Beloit (or is it Janesville?) because he cannot possibly spend a week or more away from the support and care of us, his family, and we can’t afford the time or money to drive him back and forth. And this, of course, does not even begin to address the fact that we would be expected, as parents of three in a one-income household, to pay $500 each (in addition to the charges for required outside testing to prove them eligible) for courses that may actually challenge our children; all of this beyond the more than $4,500 per year that we pay in property taxes, a large chunk of which (though obviously not all) goes to schools in Madison and around the state. [A related issue is the high amount of our “education” portion in allegedly local property taxes that goes to districts elsewhere in WI because of huge disparities in property values and per pupil spending across the state – this is not a problem I can even pretend to have a solution for either.]
    I could almost cry every time I think of how repressive and hurtful this district can be for children in the gifted and highly gifted range: and we are supposed to be one of the “best” districts in a state that is supposed to be one of the best for education across the country? How sad.
    I do not, by the way, blame our mostly dedicated and hard-working district TAG staff either! There is little they can do to reverse these trends when funding is repeatedly cut and allegedly “evidence-based” changes are pushed through without citing any of that evidence, or admitting to any of the reams of evidence in hundreds of other studies that show that at least some level of ability grouping leads to increased achievement for students of ALL levels.
    It is hard work not to let all this get too personally depressing over time.

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