It was an unusual sight at the weekly Lake Stevens School Board meeting last month when over 20 Lake Stevens High School students walked in the door with the hope of addressing the school board on the subject of a curriculum change.
“It was awesome, in part because board meetings are really quiet,” School Board member Mari Taylor said.
The students were forward thinking and trying to prepare themselves the best they can for life after high school. With colleges being so expensive, these kids are trying to find ways to get a foot up by adding an Advanced Placement Government class to the required graduation curriculum.
“I think a lot of these kids were motivated about the budget cuts and the costs at UW,” Taylor said. “They were looking at how they could constructively take action to make it better. It was a really constructive way to go about solving this problem.”
Currently, according to Washington state law there is a graduation requirement that students take a contemporary world history, geography, economics, social studies, civics, political science, international relations or related course with emphasis on current problems. In the Lake Stevens School District, they have chosen Contemporary World Issues (CWI) and Contemporary American Issues (CAI) to fulfill these requirements.
The students, led by Chari Hannigan, wanted to include Advanced Placement Government (AP Gov.) as a class that could fulfill this legislative requirement. At their first school board meeting they presented to the school board a five-page signed petition.
“We had the necessary tools to make it happen but nobody was doing anything about it. We decided that we can try out something that will help classes in the future and now they have the option,” Lake Stevens High School junior Mackenzie Simon said. “We really started this whole thing because it’s an AP class which can help prepare us for college and not just another honors course that doesn’t really help us for college.”
The students were able to not just witness the process but to be actively involved in making a change that could ultimately have an effect on their future.
“The students wanted it because their schedules are so busy and if they pass the exam they can possibly get college credit for it depending on university acceptance standards and their score,” Arlene Hulten, Community Relations Director for the Lake Stevens School Board said. “From the district’s standpoint of course we take grad requirements very seriously. There is a process for looking at that. We went through this thoughtful process.”
The district asked the social studies department to investigate the issue. The teachers in that department were split on whether or not it should be accepted as curriculum policy. The board decided to ask the Curriculum Commission to see what they felt was best.
The Curriculum Commission voted to approve the AP Government class as an acceptable class to fill graduation requirements.
“Great conversations were had and a lot of people were involved in evaluating the curriculum,” Hulten said. “With the Curriculum Commission’s approval of this, the end result is that it gives our students another option for a class as well as meeting this graduation requirement and still maintains the great curriculum we have had in place for a long time.”
After taking the initiative to make achange, the kids are excited to have been able to registered for their AP Gov class next year and know that it will be counted as a graduation requirement.
“I will be taking the class next yea,” Simon said. “I think they ended up approving two periods because so many kids signed. I am excited to take the class.”
Lessons were learned on both sides. Students learned how the entire process takes places from coming up with a plan, getting others involved and taking it to a board for a decision.
The school board realized that maybe there were things that they could do differently as well.
“In looking for a solution, there were holes in the way our system worked,” Taylor said. “The Curriculum Commission stepped up and made the decision. They are really the ones who took that on. It was actually a really good way to go. I don’t think it would have being meaningful for the board to make that decision.”
Both sides worked togther with integrity and mutual respect. The whole experience was positive for everyone involved.
“It’s impressive when students get involved in any kind of political process,” Hulten said. “The board was very thankful for their input and being involved in the process. They were appreciative that they cared and brought it to the board. It caused everyone to think hard about whether this class covers the requirements. It took some time and those decisions shouldn’t be mad lightly. The fact that the students were involved in it made it a little more real for everyone involved.”
As Simon continued to observe and be involved in the process, he realized that the board would ultimately do what they felt was best for the students while still following the legislative requirements.
“At first, I felt that they weren’t 100 percent for it but that they were open to idea,” he said. “They allowed students to talk to them and they did finally approve it, which shows that they were down for the idea.”