The New Jersey Department of Education has been promoting the fact that state educational code allows schools to approve experiences in lieu of the traditional graduation requirements.
A traditional New Jersey high school student is required to take:
4 years of English
3 years of mathematics
3 years of science
1 year of World History/Culture
2 years of US History
1 year of foreign language
4 years of Physical Education
1 year of a practical art
1 year of a fine or performing art
These requirements can be found in state code: 6A:8-5.1, 1, a., 1. Actually it is in section 1 (i). Listed in that same section, under the notation of (ii) is the idea of allowing students to be awarded credit for various experiences and have the activities count toward one or more of the graduation requirements listed above. This has become known as “Option II” programming. (see 6A:8-5.1, 1, a., 1, ii. @ http://www.nj.gov/education/code/current/title6a/chap8.pdf)
This alternate approach to achieve the graduation requirements can take a number of different forms. “Option II” could be exercised by a student who would want to have a specific college course that he/she takes while in high school also count toward the high school graduation requirements. Another example may be a student who participates in a regular, rigorous gymnastics training programming submitting a request to have this activity count as a year of physical education.
In addition, rather than individual students proposing “Option II” ideas, schools can approve programs that are deemed to satisfy the traditional, required courses. That way, students can simply select the non-traditional activity and know that it will count as satisfying a particular item on the regular list of graduation requirements.
We happen to be a very small school that is situated in a two square mile “city” that is also the county seat. This means that we have many unique opportunities that are in walking distance to the school – a hospital, the county court system, law offices, engineering firms, retail businesses, etc. Thus, we are planning to begin an effort to develop partnerships with these various industries so that there will be pre-approved “Option II” experiences that students can select (or apply for, if competition for the slots becomes significant).
In addition, on-line courses fit into the “Option II” parameters. Thus, since we are limited by the size of our faculty and student body with regard to the variety of elective offerings, we are considering providing students easier opportunities to select from a much wider range of interesting courses on-line.
What does this all mean? It is recognition that the learning taking place during the adolescent years is a compilation of many valuable activities and experiences. It allows the schools to celebrate the unique interests and learning styles of the students. Finally, it provides an exciting opportunity for students to find real meaning in their learning and explore interest in a way that also connects the experience to their official “transcript” of high school learning.
I am excited about the potential – especially given the unique characteristics of our district that will lend to a heavy emphasis of “Option II” learning. It will take some time before we have a full spectrum of program offerings, but we intend to make a serious start for the 2008-09 school year.
Is any other state system allowing/encouraging such an approach? Does anyone have good experience to share?