(Lack of) Choice in BHSEC’s College Program

Ayla Safran, ‘15

Upon finishing tenth grade, many BHSEC students are eager to receive the course catalogue so that they can choose which courses to take as a Year 1 (Y1). The way that BHSEC is structured obliges students to take almost exclusively required courses in their first two years; is necessary to fulfill a certain amount of high school credits before entering early college. BHSEC’s college program, though, offers the promise of a personalized schedule. Add-drop week (when students can even change their classes) further reinforces the front of selection. At a school where the faculty emphasizes their trust in the students, this individualized curriculum makes a lot of sense. The students are able to take the classes that they are interested in, as long as they are responsible. Yet the number of choices seems to have shrunk during the past few years.

Each student generally spends two years in the college program. During this time, there are certain requirements that he or she must meet. The most basic is that, in order to earn the Associate’s Degree, the student must take at least 60 credits (most classes are between one and three credits per semester). In order to ensure that students complete this requirement, the school also mandates a minimum of 14 credits per semester, and at least one class per day of the school week. These requirements still leave room for choice, but there are other more restrictive aspects to the college program as well.

According to the BHSEC website, “BHSEC Manhattan offers a variety of college courses across the liberal arts and sciences each semester”. This is true in some ways. The humanities electives on the course catalogue shift every semester, and range from Zen Buddhism to Gothic literature to the “Culture and History of Food.” In fact, there are so many choices that one student expressed frustration that she was not able to take more of these classes. Furthermore, while students are able to rank their top three choices for their elective, the school acknowledges that not all students will get their first choices. Evgeniy Vladimirskiy, a Y1, said in frustration, “you don’t ever get what you put as a choice anyways.” However, in the case of sciences, this variety is not as evident. In Y1, all students are required to take two semesters of biology. This generally prevents Y1s from taking any other science classes because there is not enough room on their schedules. Multiple students expressed dissatisfaction with this requirement.

In addition, the choices for math classes are severely limited. Y1 Pat Michon said that he is  “displeased with [the] lack of math electives.” This seems to be the general feeling among students who, during the fall term, must either take Calculus I (which Y1s go into without having taken pre-calculus), or Mathematical Modeling. Although this seems like a choice between classes, students get placed into these classes based on a Calculus Readiness Exam, which is administered during Writing and Thinking Week in September. Some students feel that they would not have chosen to take calculus, but they were placed in the class and so they felt that they had to try it. Others are very unhappy that they were placed in the mathematical modeling class, and would have much preferred to have had the option of taking a class such as statistics (which has been offered in the past). One Y1 said, “I wish there were more electives because I want to learn more and improve my math skills but the choices offered don’t really allow me to do so.” In a school that is supposed to be encouraging interest in the classes, to some students it does not seem fair that they should be forced to take classes that they see as boring.

There is another element to the limitations as well. Traditionally, students were able to take whichever classes they wanted in Year 2, as long as during the college program, they took two semesters of math, two of science, and two of language. Yet according to Sophie Gunn, ’14, “now the administration wants us to take two different subjects out of the three optional subjects (math, science and foreign language) [each semester], instead of say, doubling-up on humanities electives”. She explained that “BHSEC is protecting us in the [college] application process… because colleges will not consider a student who does so a competitive applicant.” While BHSEC students do appreciate that the school is trying to help them, many feel that the school could just provide advice, and allow the students to make their own decisions. This sentiment also applies to the maximum credit requirement of 18 credits per semester. While students may get permission from their guidance counselor to take more credits, some are not able to do so. In this situation, the school is trying to prevent its students from overloading themselves with work. However, many students feel that they can decide for themselves how many classes they are able to handle.

BHSEC emphasizes the responsibility and maturity of its students, yet it also seems to restrict their freedom. While many of the inhibiting requirements are for the benefit of the students, this gives the Y1s and Y2s the feeling of a lack of trust from the faculty. The students do appreciate the concern of the faculty, but think that they are capable of making their own decisions. 

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