Cutting Classes


BFA course books from the 1990’s

Julia Scott, Editor-In-Training

This BFA Mercury article is brought to you by BFA electives.

Journalism is a non-core-curriculum class offered at BFA, providing a writing opportunity that students would not get in their standard English class.

Electives enable the student to pursue his or her passions, no matter how nontraditional. An interested student can take classes ranging from the science of maple sugaring to public speaking.

However, BFA has been removing elective options over the years and some subjects are feeling the loss.

In particular, the BFA social studies department has lost many of its previous offerings.

“The place that I think is most marked this year is in the social studies department and that had to do with a teacher who decided not to return at the midpoint in the summer. The decision was made not to replace that teacher because of declining enrollment. The social studies worked closely with administration and were very helpful in sort of figuring out how we’re going to meet the needs of students around the graduation requirements,” Dr. Preston Randall, BFA guidance director, said.

These requirements include an economics proficiency for all students after the class of 2019. However, no economics class is offered, and economics is often barely touched in the current curriculum while previous years offered it as its own course.

In addition to economics, BFA has offered courses in business English and vocabulary, video literature, modern literature, sociology, Vermont history, Native American history and anthropology, psychology, current events, German, creating with fabrics, world geography, world history, social studies seminar, women’s studies, and ecology, all of which have since been cut.

In the 2017-2018 school year, students interested in sociology and psychology were startled to find that the classes no longer existed. Many were placed in classes they weren’t interested in to accommodate the loss.

These students, according to Randall, who saw a course in their schedule last May only to later find it missing, were often the most vocal about the loss of electives.

“Those particular courses were of great interest to many, many students — psychology and sociology. That’s a pathway, a career choice, an important one, and like you mentioned the need for social workers to help with mental illness in this country. High school is an opportunity to introduce those curriculums to students and for some who know they want to get into that, and for some who may not know then take the course and find out ‘this is a path I want to head down’ it’s unfortunate that that’s the way we’ve gone,” Geoff Murray, BFA social studies teacher, said.

Of the 16 classes cut in the last 20 years, ten belonged to the social studies department.

“The social studies discipline has taken a back seat, in some ways, to other disciplines. Not to say that those other disciplines aren’t vitally important, [but] in a time where civil discourse is at a premium, financial literacy and understanding economics is at a premium… the social studies curriculum needs to be at the forefront, to learn, and teach students about our world, our country, and everything that’s going on,” Murray said.

The problem is the result of two combining factors: downturning enrollment and ficial concerns.

Across Vermont, there are fewer student as the population ages. Fewer students lead to fewer teachers employed at BFA and throughout Vermont.

“The reason that there are fewer [electives] is because student enrolment throughout the state is declining, so we have close to 400 fewer students than we had ten years ago or so… as a result we also have, I believe, about 15 fewer teachers…Fewer teachers means that we have to have the core things that we’re teaching, the graduation requirements, and means that we’re not able to offer [electives],” Randall said.

The fine arts have also seen a decline in class offerings in a different way in the past years.

“The social studies department, for instance, would offer a section of world history each semester and only one. If the numbers go down and you eliminate one section then all of a sudden there’s none. A painting class, if the art department, and I don’t know the numbers, but if the art department used to offer four, and they lose one and now they’re offering three sections of that, they’re still offering that class. The impact looks different because it’s predominantly an elective department and they certainly have lost sections,” Randall said.

In an effort to keep student interest in the arts, the department has adapted and changed its offerings to match student interests. Mr. Eric Bushey added a beginners guitar class several years ago, and is offering an advanced guitar class for the 2018-2019 school year due to popular demand.

While diminishing electives are the result of low enrollment, Murray fears that they might in turn contribute to it.

“Students that come from other schools that I’ve had in class have always said they’ve transferred to BFA, or, through school choice, decided to come to BFA because of our class options. The more we cut back on those options, certainly students will have less variety and potentially students from sending schools might look elsewhere if they can’t find the classes that they want,” Murray said.

As long as Vermont schools are unable to fund elective courses, their students will be missing out on important opportunities to find their passions and interests, or try something new.

“For me, I go to the big picture, why do we even have public high school? Why do kids come to high school? I think, where students are at developmentally, part of the function is exposure to diverse academic interests,” Randall said.