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It ‘s scheduling time at the high school where I teach. Usually this means that students sit down with counselors and choose the classes that they want for the following year based on a plan for post graduation. Scheduling is done a little differently at our site. Our high school has, unfortunately, succumbed to the current trend in education of peppering the campus with “academies and small learning communities”. We currently have seven, eight or nine- I ‘ve lost count. The “idea” of a small learning community or academy on a large, comprehensive campus is to provide a smaller learning environment for students and establish a sense of connectedness between academy members. (Why don ‘t they just create smaller schools?) What it has done, at least on our 2400 student campus, is to segregate the student population even further, confuse the staff regarding the operations of the academies and provide a migraine for the administrator in charge of scheduling. Oh, and it has also created a “dumping ground” in the arts for students who ‘s schedules can ‘t accommodate anything else.
With each new academy added to our campus, our arts classes have taken a hit. Students no longer opt to take a visual art course or music class. If they are not enrolled in one of the academies, then their counselor plugs them into whatever elective is available to fit their schedule. As teachers we no longer have classes filled with students who selected our classes, but are instead dumped in them. One of our teachers did an informal survey of the students at the beginning of the year and discovered that almost seventy percent of the students enrolled in her classes had never elected to be there. Throughout the year we systematically lose and gain students as they move, drop out, transfer or return from incarceration. This revolving door system of enrollment is not only intrusive but expensive in terms of wasted materials and supplies. When a new student (who has never taken art before) is assigned to our class in March and we question the wisdom of this placement, we are told by frustrated counselors that there is just no where else to put them. Dumping ground? The counseling office swears not. But as I look around the class at the faces of students who clearly would rather be anywhere but in an art class, I wonder. Isn ‘t the goal of education supposed to be what best serves the student? Does a multiplex of campus academies serve the majority or is it really impacting kids in ways, such as limiting electives, that are administratively dismissive? Have electives lost their educational value or are they just being used as holding ponds? Are other arts educators having these issues?