The Bellmore-Merrick High School District is creating new academic opportunities for students this year, said Michael Harrington, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
This week, officials offered details about some of the new English, math and social studies programs that students can look forward to when school starts in two weeks.
“English is a subject that is best taught in context,” said Merrick Avenue Middle School Principal Taryn Johnson — context that she hopes will be provided by the district’s new humanities initiative, she added. Designed by six district chairs, the new seventh-grade curriculum calls for English and social studies lessons to be taught side by side. The program will include roughly 20 units, starting with one on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Mary Donnelly, the Grand Avenue Middle School English chairwoman, said she was a first-year teacher in 2001, and the events of Sept. 11 have been an inextricable part of her life as well as her students.’
“Now we’re working with the students who do not have a vivid memory of these events,” she said.
National Public Radio reported last September that the events of Sept. 11 were included in high school curricula in only about 20 states.
Teachers will approach the subject of Sept. 11 with sensitivity, Donnelly said, keeping in mind that a number of local families have been affected by the attacks.
Social studies teachers will educate students about the historical events that led up to the terrorist attacks, and English teachers will examine how American authors and artists responded to them. The unit will focus mainly on the art and literature created in the wake of the attacks, as opposed to exploring the war on terror or post-9/11 politics. It will include a look at the National Constitution Center’s art gallery, which showcases Sept. 11-inspired pieces created by artists from across the country.
Math and science acceleration
The district has long offered traditional and accelerated paths to complete the two math courses required for Algebra 1 and its Regents exam. The traditional path involves taking one course in seventh grade, another in eighth and Algebra 1 in ninth. Students on the accelerated path take both preliminary math courses in seventh grade and algebra in eighth.
Now the district will offer a middle ground between the two paths, in which students can take the first math course and half of the second in seventh grade before completing the second in eighth grade and taking algebra that same year, according to Harrington. This will allow students to take Advanced Placement calculus for college credit in their senior year if they choose.
According to the College Board, 33.2 percent of public high school graduates took an A.P. exam in 2013, compared with 18.9 percent of graduates in 2003. Also in 2013, New York state was ranked seventh in the nation in the number of students taking A.P. exams, with 25.4 percent doing so by graduation.
Bellmore-Merrick’s science program will follow a pattern similar to the math program. In the past, accelerated students have taken earth science in eighth grade, while others have completed it in ninth grade. Now the district will identify seventh-graders who are not on the advanced track and potentially move them into earth science in eighth grade. This will allow a greater number of students to take A.P. science classes in high school.
Both middle schools in the district will see a surge in new electives this year that will include computer coding, entrepreneurship, creative writing and digital music production.
A coding course will be offered in lieu of a traditional technology course.
“Coding’s kind of the way of the future,” said Carlo Conte, the Grand Avenue Middle School principal. “They’re plenty of kids out there who are messing around with it already.”
Another new course will focus on research methods, and will be designed in the style of Google’s Genius Hour, in which students will produce and publish independent research projects.
Donnelly said she has seen a spike in enthusiasm among the teachers working to create these new programs. “And I think that enthusiasm is really going to benefit the students,” she said.