Isn’t “Elective Requirements” an Oxymoron?

A deeper investigation of student opinion on elective requirements

Alexandra Weber, Writer

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Isn’t “Elective Requirements” an Oxymoron?

A deeper investigation of student opinion on elective requirements 

Astronomy, Chinese Caligraphy, Foundations of Nanotechnology, Sports Medicine, and Paper Art. These are just five of the 53 electives offered to students at Bergen County Academies this year. A majority of students at BCA have to fulfill a certain amount and type of electives in order to graduate. These have been deemed “elective requirements”. This phrase might seem daunting to some, and to others, a chance to explore fields and topics that they might not have otherwise had the chance to take during the school day. While talking to fellow peers – some expressing disapproval, some indifferent, and some content with how elective requirements are implemented – the Academy Chronicle wanted to understand if the way elective requirements are assigned was an extensive issue and what potential solutions are the most favorable. 

According to the New Jersey StudentLearning Standards from the State of New Jersey Department of Education, “In grades 9-12, all students areexpected to communicate at a basic level in the arts and demonstrate proficiency in at least one arts discipline.” However, BCA is a vigorous learning environment with longer hours and more challenging courses than an average highschool. This is a possible reason why elective requirements may sometimes be considered more of a burden than a new opportunity.

One way to examine this issue further is to ask those who are experiencing it first hand: the students. The Academy Chronicle conducted a survey to find out what students’ opinions were on elective requirements. Students were asked questions based on academy (as not all academies have the same requirements) in order to examine if a difference in requirements affected responses. Overall, out of the 129 students surveyed, 78% of students selected YES when asked if they know what their elective requirements are. However, when asked specifically what they are in the form of a short answer, only 59% of those students were correct in their response. This suggests that students either are not officially told what their elective requirements areor they simply do not know. Many students ended their responses with a question mark or with phrases such as ‘I think’ to show that they weren’t entirely sure.

A senior in AMST said, “I believe that it’s three art electives and three science or med, but I’m not very sure since there was never a requirements sheet given out.” The first step to ensure that one has completed the correct amount of requirements is to know what these requirements are, and from this survey, it seems that lack of awareness is an issue that needs to be solved.

One solution suggested by multiple students in the survey is to have an online portal that allows students to view their elective requirements, and when the required elective appears on their transcript, it is checked off in the online portal to signify completion. Another student suggested that “the requirements can be put on the elective registration website so when students are signing up for their classes, they know which ones to prioritize.” While the elective sign-up portal is not readily available to view, the BCA Student Dashboard is accessible and can be a great place to implement these ideas. 

The next topic that the survey covered was the experience of completing elective requirements. From a list of statements about electives, students were asked to check off which ones they agreed with. The statements were:

 

  • It is difficult to complete these requirements because spots run out quickly.
  • It is difficult to complete these requirements because I am not free mods 25-27 due to sports.
  • It is difficult to complete these requirements because they run at times other than 25-27 and I am not free.
  • It is difficult to complete these requirements because I find them challenging.

 

Out of the 58.8 percent of surveyed students who agreed with at least one of the aforementioned statements, the majority agreed with the first statement: It is difficult to complete these requirements because spots run out quickly. “While I actually enjoy taking art electives and feel that they expose me to things outside of my academy, finding time to fit them in my already packed schedule is almost impossible,” a junior in AEDT said. Another sophomore in AEDT said that “There’s plenty of people that need the same requirements so it’s hard to find spots for art electives especially since projects can’t be counted.” 

The idea of allowing projects to become a substitute for elective requirements has been brought up by students and debated upon by the Guidance Department. However, because projects are unique to BCA and do not have a set curriculum unlike electives that do, this idea can not be implemented.

 

Changes have been made to several curriculums of academies such as AEDT and AAST in order to reduce course load and increase free time among students. For AVPA “The requirements were a lot, but they just became less for the underclassmen. They only have to do 2 shows within all 4 years now,” states a senior about their academy. Elective requirements, as demonstrated by the survey, are a school-wide issue and actions that not only improve the school experience of incoming students, but as well as current students are in high demand. 

These improvements will have an extreme impacton the athletes of BCA. While they are limited in numbers, over 90% of students who play a sport stated that the reason elective requirements are difficult to complete is due to the fact that they are absent during elective hour (Mods 25-27). BCA is a special environment because it houses one of the most unique and driven student bodies in the nation. However, because of the way electives are scheduled, it discourages students from participating in sports. “I would like to do sports, or be in the school play, but that would take up my elective spots,” said a freshman in AAST. Students who attend Bergen Tech have the option to attend classes in the summer in order to complete their elective requirements. If this same opportunity was open to BCA students, athletes will not have to stress over sacrificing a sport they enjoy for a class that they love, rather they can do both. While electives are great experiences to have, so are sports, and students should be able to have both learning opportunities in a classroom setting, but also by being active.

Elective requirements exist in order to push students out of their comfort zones and expose them to other topics outside of their designated academies. However, based off feedback from students, the main problem with elective requirements lies in scheduling and finding sufficient free time to complete them. As a highschool student, it is important to develop time-management skills and along with prioritization. A junior in AAST states it perfectly:  “It’s just so many [requirements] and the electives that I truly want to take don’t count as art electives so I always have to find a balance.” While BCA may offer several electives that peak immediate interest, it is up to the students to balance and plan out what electives they want to take versus what they need to take. 

Since I have completed this article, changes have been made to project selections that are a step in the right direction to increase the amount of opportunities students have to complete art electives. A list of the 2nd-Trimester projects was recently sent out to the student body and some of the project descriptions will now fulfill art requirements.

 

Sources

State of New Jersey Department of Education: https://www.nj.gov/education/cccs/2014/arts/