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Political concerns raised in proposed AHS course

Eric Lawson

ALPENA — After the name of a proposed history course was changed because Alpena High School teachers thought it might sound too political, the Alpena Public Schools Board of Education may require final approval before the course is offered to students.

The board’s Curriculum and Technology Committee reviewed the proposed course last week, and two school board trustees voiced concerns.

The course, Perspectives of Democracy, is being designed by Alpena High School teachers Bill Bright and Amy Brownridge, with the help of an instructional coach. The course would focus on how democracy works, why it works, and what it means to be an American citizen in today’s world, according to APS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Meaghan Gauthier.

The course would be a continuation of two other project-based learning classes offered to ninth- and 10th-graders and would integrate English and history standards required by the state.

Newly elected Trustee Eric Lawson inquired about the course title and why teachers thought it needed to be changed. The course was originally called Perspectives of Democracy or Constitutional Perspectives.

Gauthier said that, given the country’s divisive political climate, the teachers wanted to make sure the course title summarized the goal of the course.

Lawson asked what made the original title divisive. Gauthier said she didn’t know, because she did not sit in on teachers’ original discussions.

“That really concerns me, because, wouldn’t it be fair to say that, in today’s world, the Constitution, as a method of curbing the power of both the executive branch and the legislative branch, couldn’t we say that that is more critical than ever in times like these?” he said.

Gauthier said Bright and Brownridge would follow the state standards in teaching government.

Lawson also expressed concerns about project-based learning courses and whether students achieve competency after completing the course. He also expressed concerns that students are graded for group work, which he said was “widely unfair and doesn’t necessarily get students ready for the real world.

“In the real world, if you don’t pull your weight, you’re not going to do well,” he said.

Gauthier said that, in some parts of project-based learning courses, students are graded for group work, but, other times, students are graded individually. She said the interpersonal dynamics learned in group work does translate into the real world, and group work is required in other, more traditional classes, as well.

Board Vice President Stacey Parr said she was concerned with some comments about the proposed course from employees in the school’s social studies and English language arts departments, who worried offering the new course would negatively impact enrollment in the high school’s Advanced Placement classes.

“On a personal level, my concern is both groups identify potential problems with AP students and how this would affect them,” she said.

Parr said she knows AP classes have been canceled because of enrollment.

Gauthier said she did not know how offering the course would impact AP enrollment, but said employees should talk to kids about their interests and career goals and advise students to choose appropriately.

Lawson said he did not want to get into a situation in which trustees feel they have to approve the course to find out what’s in it. He said he would support “stringing the process along, even if it delays it a year, to really do it right.”

Gauthier said she would not invest time and would not ask teachers to invest their time in the course creation if there is not a chance the board would approve it.

“I know these two teachers. If it’s not approved, they’re not going to invest the time right now,” she said. “If we string it along, it might be dead for awhile. Just putting that out there. I can’t ask them to put in the time without knowing.”

She suggested the board could approve the development of the course with the intent to be on the schedule, and have Bright and Brownridge present the course to the board before final approval.

Board President Gordon Snow said he would like to see the teachers move forward with developing the course.

“I want to be careful that we don’t want to slap down a couple of creative people who have really put a lot of time and energy into this,” he said. “Because, if we do, that word will spread within 24 hours that the board is going to stand in the way of everything we do, and I’m not willing to do that.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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