By Elizabeth Lande, Reporter & Designer
At the beginning of second semester, the administration reintroduced the honors program to VHS. In the past, senior students had the option to take honors English, but the classes were discontinued in the 1980s.
Other English electives, including an AP English course, took its place, eventually leading to the classes currently offered in the subject.
Now, “embedded honors” classes have been added back to the curriculum, offering students in freshman English and physical science the opportunity to take an honors version of the core class. Starting next year, AP World History will be replaced with Honors World History; honors geometry and biology courses may be offered as well, but the programs have not yet been decided.
The honors curricula VHS is implementing are known as “embedded honors,” and are organized differently from standard honors courses — students who choose to take a class for honors credit will be enrolled in the same period and with the same teacher as students taking the standard course.
The distinguishing feature between taking the regular class and its embedded honors counterpart is the type of work that students will do. While they all receive the same lesson, honors students will likely receive a more complex version of the assignment or a more advanced reading. In some cases this will mean longer assignments and more work.
“Simply assigning more work is not usually what the student is looking for necessarily, [and] it’s not what the teacher is looking for,” principal Danny Rock said. “There will be occasions when earning the honors designation … will mean being assigned more work, but as much as possible, teachers will be employing deeper levels of complexity.”
This aspect of the honors curriculum has been apparent in the freshman English course. According to freshman Zach Van Dusen, who is currently enrolled in the embedded honors
course, the honors class is significantly more challenging than the regular version — which is part of the reason why he took the class.
“I thought it would be a good challenge and a deeper look into English,” he said. “It’s a
challenge. … It’s definitely harder [than the regular class].”
As to whether or not he’s glad about taking the honors version, Van Dusen confessed he wasn’t sure yet. He did, however, express that he would have liked to take AP World History next year.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “It sounded like an interesting class.”
After offering AP World History for nearly 20 years, the shift to an honors course may seem abrupt. A discussion between Rock and teacher Aaron Marsh prompted the decision.
“There are few people in the state who know more about APWH than Mr. Aaron Marsh,” Rock said. “So, when he came to me to talk about stepping back from APWH, I had a lot of respect and I was paying attention to what his thinking was on the matter.”
Rock also clarified that while APWH won’t be offered next year, sophomores interested in furthering their knowledge of World History will be able to take the class in honors format.
“What Mr. Marsh may do is craft a lesson and assignment that is accessible for all the World History students, but build elements into it that were present in his AP class in order to provide that extra depth … and complexity for honors students.”
Freshman Chiara Heimbeck, who had wanted to take AP World History as a sophomore, now plans on enrolling in the honors course. Still, like Van Dusen, she’s disappointed about the change.
“I’m going to take honors, but I was really hoping to take AP,” she said.
According to Rock, the decision to add honors classes also stems from the administration’s goal of offering courses that will continue to challenge students.
“There’s an AP class that’s been taken off the table; 10th grade World History … but there’s potentially half a dozen honors classes that have been put on the table,” he said. “So we’re also trying to increase opportunities for students to be ambitious … and to be able to have a rich or more rigorous learning experience, and then be able to have something on their transcript that reflects that.”
However, unlike AP classes, honors courses do not allow students the opportunity to earn college credit. Depending on the college or university a student applies to, they can waive entry level courses, such as Human Geography, with AP credit.
For honors classes, no such credit exists. The classes may look good on a college application, but a student cannot gain any college credit from taking an honors course.
However, students can still sign up for and take the AP test at the end of the year. The class likely won’t prepare a student for the exam as well as the AP course would, but students are permitted to test for a score.
Furthermore, Rock noted how honors classes would help achieve the goal of keeping VHS students on a relatively even learning level, as, according to Rock, having students in separate classes based on inclination towards a subject can have negative social and academic effects.
“[At] a small school like ours … we can’t separate out students too much when it comes to the accelerated learners, grade-level learners and below-grade-level learners,” he said.
Students interested in taking an honors course next year will be able to enroll within the first few weeks of the semester after turning in a form signed by both the student and their parent or guardian.
Rock emphasized that the deadline for entering the honors curriculum is strict, and no late decisions will be accepted.
“Once a student chooses or commits to honors, they can’t undo it, they can’t go backwards,” Rock said. “Once the deadline passes, other students can’t decide later that they want to do honors. So the deadline is real and meaningful.”
For all students considering taking an honors course, details will be covered in applicable classes at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.