Minneapolis Board of Education reduces graduation requirements


Eveline Murphy-Wilson

Gym teacher Carol Allery walks freshman Wisdom Kowouto through a workout in the weight room. Allery expressed disapointment when she found out that the gym requirement for graduation will be reduced to one semester for incoming freshman.

Eveline Murphy-Wilson, Staff Writer

In High School Musical, students sing through the halls and work fancy summer jobs together. In iCarly, doing one funny talent show leads her to online fame. In Glee, students from all cliques join together and sing their way through the ups and downs of high school and end up as best friends.

At South, students don’t sing through the halls or become instantly famous. The 1,800 students who roam the halls for six hours, five days a week, are simply trying to graduate from high school, a game that now has new rules.  The Minneapolis Board of Education changed the graduation requirements on January 13, 2015.  Starting with next year’s freshmen, the class of 2019, students will now have to take a semester of health, and a semester of physical education.

Whereas, right now, students are required to take a full year of both, which is required for Minneapolis Public High Schools. Along with the health and gym department being reduced, the Social Studies requirements will be cut from eight semesters down to seven. History classes will be split into five segments and within the next few years, new ethnic studies classes will be introduced.

“[We will be introducing] African American History at all high schools as the first of a five course series of Ethnic History courses. The next two in the series that will be offered in 2016 will be Latino and Asian American History,” explained Kate Pechacek, the director of secondary education.

“Cutting social studies is a problem. Being prepared for life beyond high school also requires students to be socially conscious, critical thinkers, skills acquired and developed in social studies courses,” explained Rob Panning-Miller, a social studies teacher.

Co-President of UNIDOS and South senior, John Hernandez-Laredo, said, “I don’t think it’s a necessity to graduate and know about the Hispanic community. It’s an option, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.” Hernandez-Laredo described the addition of a Latino history course as being unnecessary as a requirement.

Hernandez-Laredo continued: “African-American history should be a requirement because its a big part of American history.”

He based his opinion on relevance to the development of America, though Hispanics had a major impact on America, their movements aren’t as well known and thus, Hernandez-Laredo decided that course should not be required of high school students.

Phy ed and health teacher, Carol Allery, and social studies teachers Panning-Miller and Richard Nohel, are three of the many teachers who will be affected by this change. Lauren Lewis, a counselor, had an opinion on the new changes that was opposite to Nohel’s.

“[The changes are] kind of exciting,” Lewis said as opposed to Nohel’s opinion, “it’s bad.” On the other hand, Nohel didn’t seem to get any say in the new developments.

“They never [consult us] on anything” Nohel said. “My opinion doesn’t count for much.”

Although consultation with departments didn’t happen, there was a survey online for students, parents, and teachers. Allery noted that the survey didn’t have much control over the decision made by the board.

“Our lead instructor told us that phy ed came back with positives of trying to keep it but they still went ahead and cut it,” explained Allery.

Lewis attended a panel during which she got to put in her opinion. “I was on a panel to get counselors’ opinion. They asked for representation from every school to go and give some feedback. I would say I was consulted,” reflected Lewis.    

Although Allery wasn’t consulted on the change, it wasn’t a surprise to the health and physical education programs. “I have taught in Minneapolis since 1995 and since 1995 they’ve talked about cutting phy ed and cutting health. So we’re almost 20 years into it and they finally did it. It’s not like it was something that just happened right like that.”

Allery described her disappointment with the cut in physical education and health requirements. She commented on how much she loves watching and teaching kids who don’t like gym class to grow to love gym.She described, “I think [the new requirements are] a sad thing, because only the students that really want it are going to continue with it, and so I don’t get to get them to love it inside.”

“Overall, I think the change is negative. While it is great to allow students to take electives they are interested in, cutting both health and P.E. requirements could negatively affect students’ physical well-being,” Panning-Miller said in support of Allery’s unhappy reaction to the requirement reduction.

“I think its a sad thing because the subjects I teach are behavior change. Behavior change is one of the hardest things to do. It’s something that’s lifelong, you always have to pay attention to your health. You always have to pay attention to your physical health,” said Allery. With the cuts, Allery is worried she won’t be able to instill the love of movement in her students or better yet, watch them instill it in themselves.

“I am passionate about the role our schools play, and particularly our high schools, in helping students identify their post secondary passions and goals,” Pechacek concluded.She continued, “Aligning those passions and goals to viable options; and then to prepare them for a success to become whatever they want to become after they graduate and leave our doors.”

“I believe the change in graduation requirements is only one of many steps needed to allow for our students to be recognized as individuals, with personalized paths toward post-secondary and life-long success,” Pechacek stated. “[People are] looking out for each other.”