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District considers arts requirement for Aspen grads

John Colson

Aspen High students may soon have to study a foreign language, take gym class and enroll in fine-arts courses to get their diplomas.But the Aspen School District has put off final approval for its updated graduation requirements until April.In the meantime, Aspen High School Principal Charlie Anastas will look into whether the fine-arts requirement should count for a half-credit or a whole credit starting with next fall’s freshmen, who will be in the Class of 2010.The school board has been discussing changes to the district’s graduation requirements in response to admissions modifications at colleges and universities around Colorado. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education recently approved those changes, which toughened some admissions requirements.New requirements would give Aspen High grads a better shot at getting into the university or college of their choice. And the board has also expressed interest in broadening the scope of education that local students receive.So the board is considering measures like the additional language requirement, even though a majority of Aspen students already study a foreign language, and the fine-arts component.Under the guidelines the board is considering, students could meet the foreign language requirement with classes at either the middle school or high school level, as long as they complete a certain level before graduating.Board member Sally Hansen at one point asked about the idea of initiating a requirement for courses geared toward the arts instead of requiring gym class, since Aspen is the kind of place where most kids are physically active without being required to take gym classes, but Anastas said gym class is beneficial and necessary.Anastas told the board the idea of a fine-arts requirement came up during his deliberations about graduation requirements. He said he concluded that the school does not yet have enough fine-arts classes.See Grads on page A6″We didn’t feel that we were ready yet,” he said.Board Chairwoman Laura Kornasiewicz said a random Internet check of 30 high schools around the country showed that all but one of them has a fine-arts requirement and many featured a relatively broad interpretation of the course area. She said courses in drafting, wood shop and graphic arts were included in the lists of acceptable courses, as well as speech, debate and even creative writing. She suggested Aspen could do the same.”I think what we’re really after is ‘creative arts,'” noted board member Elizabeth Parker.Board member Charla Belinski suggested that if the school has trouble coming up with enough courses because of staffing or other restrictions, it is possible to reach out to the community for help from local arts groups and foundations.The board concluded that it should include fine arts in the list of graduation requirements, but it left it to Anastas to determine how many credits should be required. In addition to the physical education and fine-arts requirements, the administration has recommended the school continue to require four credits of English for all students; increase the existing three-credit requirement in math to four credits for college-bound students only; increase the two-and-a-half-credit science requirement to three credits for college-bound kids; and continue the existing three-and-a-half-credit requirement for social studies and half-credits each in health and computer literacy.The experiential education requirement would jump from its current quarter-credit value to half, enabling students to accumulate a two-credit maximum if they take part in it for all four of their high school years.Among the specific required courses in the proposed list are literature, composition, American literature, biological sciences, physical and earth sciences, geography, world history, U.S. history, and civics.Anastas informed the board that the new state college admission requirements, for 2010 graduates and beyond, include four years of English and mathematics, three years each of science and the social sciences, two years of a foreign language and two years at least of “academic electives,” for a total of 18 credits.Students from Aspen High School are expected to accumulate a total of 24 credits, which would not change with the proposed new requirements. But additional credit requirements in math, science, foreign languages and gym, along with a new fine-arts requirement, would cut into the number of elective classes the students could use toward their total graduation requirements.The board is expecting to consider final approval to the new graduation requirements at its next meeting, on April 10.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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