Return to News

Educators try to strike balance between arts, school to work

by Gail Marsh


The arts are very dear to Mary Frances Beto Smith, the choral director at Bridgeport High School. She'll be the first one to try to protect them in the school system.

So after examining the state's school to work program, she believes it will only assist her in what she is trying to do. In short, she can't complain.

"With one of the six career clusters set aside for fine arts and humanities, it can only enhance what we are trying to accomplish here," she said.

Parents and educators have been concerned that legislative changes might limit a student's opportunity to take band, art or other electives during high school. They fear that the legislation, which requires that students choose a career path and take classes that will help them down the path, will take away from the electives they can choose.

"If the class is going to be required, I would like to see it taught at the middle school level. Making it part of the high school curriculum takes away from the few electives that students have now," said Kim Bond, a Robert C. Byrd High School parent of two students.

Bond wants her children to be able to take driver's education, band and art classes. If they have to take other classes, when will students have the time to take these "enrichment classes," as she called them.

Beto Smith said school to work can be tailored to include any interests that students have.

"Whether its the arts or math or science, the program should be able to include any of the things that students want to do," she said.

School to work requires that by the end of eighth grade, students must pick a career path and choose classes that will help them to learn about those careers while still in high school. This started with last year's ninth-graders.

The six career paths, or clusters, include health, human services, business/marketing, science/natural resources, engineering technical and fine arts/humanities.

Students will be able to pursue more types of classes in the arts category, including music theory classes, the choral director said.

"I didn't have any background or advanced courses when I left high school and it made the transition to college difficult. These students will have the chance to take higher level courses," she said.

Students in the fine arts/humanities cluster can explore career interests in fields such as journalism, dance, graphic design, visual art, literature, psychology or English.

They will be able to try anything from going to United Technical Center to shadow an instructor who teaches an electrical class, to working with a middle school teacher to build a lesson plan for an art education class, Beto Smith said.

"It will give students a chance to actually get out there and see what people in a certain profession are doing. They will be able to observe what goes on and evaluate whether it's the kind of career they really want to pursue," she said.

But what about students who want to take arts classes or be in the band but are studying to be an architect in the engineering, technical sequence?

According to Beto Smith, this shouldn't be a problem with the number of electives that students can take.

"They have at least four unrestricted credits during high school that they can do anything with, and if they go to block, then they have eight," she said.

Parents at Robert C. Byrd say their children could be taking arts classes if they didn't have to take the career exploration class, called Introduction to the Majors. Sophomores throughout the county must use an elective to learn about different jobs and higher education opportunities.

Because RCB is on a traditional schedule of seven classes a day, students can earn just 28 credits in high school, just one more than the mandatory 27 credits needed for graduation. Students at the other county high school are on various types of block scheduling that allows for 32 credits.

Cathy Fisher, Harrison County's school to work coordinator, said schools on the traditional schedule will have a harder time with the changes that school to work brings.

"By staying with a seven-period day, it will become a challenge to find the time to offer the electives that students want, whether it be in the arts or sciences or math," she said.

Bernie Calhoun of Smithburg said the class may be fine for some students, but it will take away from the electives her son, Aaron, may want to take in his senior year.

"Aaron has definite career plans already in genetic research and has identified a pathway to get there. We would really prefer that the time slot given to the career class be used instead for a class in math or science or computers," she said.

Calhoun said she thinks the class could be of value for those students who are undecided about what they want to do after high school.

"The class can be useful, but I don't think it should be required for every student," she said.

Carolyn Hill is a Washington Irving Middle School teacher and a parent who also feels the class should be taught as an elective.

"Students learn a lot about careers in middle school and must make a five-year plan by the end of eighth grade. I feel that for students who know they are college-bound, they should be able to forego the careers class and take other advanced classes in their senior year," she said.

Louie Nardelli, a guidance counselor at Robert C. Byrd High School and the parent of three students in the system, said he has heard from a lot of parents who feel there is too much emphasis on career exploration.

"Not all of our students need this type of class. About one-half of our kids who are unsure of what they want to do after high school would benefit, but the other half are ready for the upper level math and science classes instead," he said.

Angie Pasternak, a sophomore at Robert C. Byrd High School, said she doesn't have a problem with the learning about careers, but only with requiring the class.

"I think job shadowing will be a good way to learn about what opportunities are out there, but I think it's a waste of an entire class period to focus on careers when we could be taking something more important," she said.

Geoffrey Millstone, a Bridgeport parent of two high school students, said communication is what will make the school to work initiative work.

"Bridgeport High School has bent over backwards to accommodate the band program and other important programs into their schedule. If parents and educators can work together, there should be few problems in implementing school to work," he said.

Millstone remains concerned about the validity of having all high school students take class time to learn about careers.

"If students already know what they want to do, it could be a colossal waste of time," he said.