It happens, and for a good reason: high schools in the same district offer slightly different courses for selection, simply because each high school serves a different demographic of students. Different students need different classes to nurture their talents and aspirations, and most of the time, each high school offers enough suitable courses to satisfy the most important needs of students.
However, sometimes differences in course offerings limit students to choosing courses that do not reflect their passions or interests, especially in core subjects. Students should have access to the courses they need, even if these courses are only offered at the other high school. The district must try to align all course offerings as much as possible to keep opportunities equal to all students, regardless of school.
Numerous course discrepancies range through all the core subjects and visual, performing and practical arts. Currently, popular courses Japanese I through AP and World History AP (WHAP) are only offered at MVHS, while the equivalent Latin I through AP and Art History AP are only offered at LAHS.
WHAP has been offered at MVHS for a long time, while Japanese was just added recently.
“World History AP is the class that most students enroll in over Modern European History AP (MEHAP),” MVHS history department coordinator Tim Farrell said during a school board meeting on January 28. “The popularity of WHAP over MEHAP has been overwhelming and very consistent for the past few years.”
WHAP gives MVHS sophomores an option for a less European-centric history course that focuses on a broader range of time periods and events. Students who want to learn about general history at an AP level will be able to do so and get the same credit as MEHAP gives.
“I enjoy WHAP quite a lot,” MVHS sophomore Anthony Chau said. “For me, it’s a pretty laid back class that I can kind of just sit back and listen to interesting topics in…So far, we’ve done a giant survey of the history of the world from around 10,000 BCE to the beginning of the 1600s. It’s interesting to see this giant world and cultures reveal in our minds as we read about it.”
Japanese has also been overwhelmingly popular at MVHS, having added a new 4-AP level in 2013 along with anticipation of two classes for each of Levels I-III next year. Japanese offers an opportunity to discover a culture, language, and country unique from Chinese and classic European languages: Spanish, French, and Latin.
“I would definitely recommend the LAHS students to have the opportunity to take Japanese too,” MVHS sophomore Rinka Murakami said, as she is currently taking Japanese 4-AP. “Although I’m fluent and people assume it’s an easy class for me, it actually isn’t because you learn not only the language itself, but it’s cultures and about their society.”
LAHS students are missing out on such beneficial courses, while MVHS students are missing out on Latin and Art History AP, courses that are also in high demand at this school. The underlying reason for this discrepancy is that students at both schools feel like they don’t have the power to change the courses offered at their own school. In actuality, students and parents drive the process to add certain courses to a school’s agenda.
“There is currently no clearly defined process for requesting courses to be offered,” MVLA District Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf said. “The Board of Trustees is ultimately responsible for determining the district’s curriculum. Course offerings [as pertaining to electives] rely heavily on community interest and students and parents. For example, the new Chinese program came about when parents expressed a strong interest in having this course. After bringing it to the administration and the board of trustees, now [three to four years later] Mandarin Chinese is part of the World Language offerings at both high schools.”
Sarraf also explained that to add another language would require an existing language to be reduced or taken away due to funding and space reasons. In the case of core classes like WHAP, the ability of the history department to make space for another course at the school would be a crucial deciding factor. If there are no teachers with the credentials to teach World History AP and no teachers display any interest in doing so, then the likelihood of adding a WHAP course is slim, even with student demand.
Ideally, if the district had the resources and space, both schools would offer all of the courses so that all students have the opportunity to take the classes they desire.
Although logistics and funding make it difficult to offer such beneficial courses at both schools, there is a way to work around such a problem, however tedious. Some students have already taken the initiative to do so themselves, by enrolling in classes at both LAHS and MVHS, despite the inconvenience of travel and scheduling. LAHS Senior Trini Inouye has been taking classes at MVHS and LAHS for her entire high school career.
“The reason I go to MVHS is for Japanese and Engineering, so my schedule has changed over the four years that I’ve been doing this,” Trini said. “Taking Japanese has helped me with my heritage. I’m 100 percent Japanese, fourth generation, so I wanted to get back in touch with that side [of myself]. I was also introduced to Engineering, which is now what I have decided what my major is going to be.”
The district highly discourages such interchanging between schools, as it is very difficult for administrators and counselors to organize schedules and make sure credits are transferred.
“Having two high schools to choose courses from is very lucky [for me],” Trini said. “It’s just the logistics are a mess….[The challenges of going to both schools] has really been excruciating.”
If students begin to inform each other about the unique opportunities offered by each school and express their interest to the district, the benefit these courses offer might finally be available to all students at both high schools, not just one.