tampabay.com

Eighth-graders face major decision

By MARYAN PELLAND
Published April 12, 2007


Much like college students, ninth-graders in Florida will be required to select a major field of study beginning next year, and the process is under way in Hernando County.

The county's eighth-graders - next year's high school freshmen - have begun to select their majors. The state mandated the program in an effort to help students focus on their interests and strengths earlier in their academic careers.

Each local high school has drawn up its own set of majors and elective classes, according to Monica Lovett, guidance team leader at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics.

Students must take four elective courses - one per year - in their declared area of study, said Christine Kostis, head of the guidance department at Hernando High School.

"It's confusing and limiting right now, since they often have to take required courses in a subject before they can qualify for electives," Kostis explained.

Say a student selects music. There are no prerequisites for any band or music electives. A math major, on the other hand, might be offered advanced electives such as college algebra or calculus, but a ninth-grade student might not qualify for those.

The solution, Kostis thinks, is to create electives at the beginning levels for all majors. In math, she said, there might be a statistics course, with no prerequisite, for example.

There are some 400 state-approved majors for the first go-around, and schools can develop their own for future approval.

Each high school team will have to work out a plan, and each can add majors every October.

Central High School hopes to offer interdisciplinary majors such as college prep instead of single course-related majors.

Kostis said there will be an emphasis on vocational studies, too. Career and technical students can become "vocational completers" after three levels of trade classes.

With high enough scores and grades, students on noncollege prep tracks take a college placement test. They may qualify for Bright Futures Gold Seal scholarships. Choosing the right high school major can tie into that program.

As the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has loomed large in curriculum changes in recent years, schools might have moved away from preparing kids for the workplace, Kostis believes.

She said that is changing, and that administrators are helping students succeed in the workplace by encouraging them to find their niche, make the most of their education and feel a sense of ownership, even though they have to fulfill certain educational requirements.

Students will not be locked into a major. They can change every year if they want, and Lovett said that's a good way to explore subject areas to determine a good fit.

"It gets kids thinking of specializing before they're out of high school," Lovett said. "They may find something they absolutely love or discover that something they thought was interesting just isn't a good fit."

Most middle schools are walking eighth-graders, and sometimes parents, through the rules for the multiple high schools each school feeds.

Challenger will meet with parents and eighth-graders at 6 p.m. April 19 in the school cafeteria. Information packets were sent home with students.

Parents can contact eighth-grade guidance counselors for information about the selection process for the majors.