BSA Students Feel Impact of City Schools’ Credit equirements

Archive, School News, School Year 2021-22

By: Quinn Bryant

The Baltimore School for the Arts has been experiencing scheduling issues that hinder student’s ability to meet Baltimore City Public School (BCPSS) System’s and the Maryland State graduation requirements. Due to BSA’s art focused schedule and 10 period day, as said by Mavis Jackson, Director of College Readiness for BCPSS, “BSA is the only school in the district with this type of schedule.”

Due to BSA’s arts-focused curriculum, there are four periods in the day where, as Thomas Askey, Assistant Principal for Academics, said, “we can’t do much academically. What we have traditionally done at BSA is give you the academics classes you need to graduate and then offer some wiggle room within there with the honors, standard, and AP classes, but those all give the same requirement.” 

Askey’s goal is “making sure that we are being faithful to the mission of the school, which is to train you as a young artist while also making sure you get your graduation requirements during a school day.” However, Askey states, BSA has become incredibly restricted in the number of periods they can allow students to take academic classes. 

More than half of the 21 polled students knew the correct number of classes they needed to take to meet the  Maryland State graduation requirements and therefore meet the district credit graduation requirements.  The  BCPSS requirements are based on the Maryland State graduation requirement, according to Mark Etienne, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for BCPSS

Jackson explained that to be promoted to the next grade level you need a certain number of credits each year in specific areas. “The state sets primary guardrails, at a minimum, you need these things, and every district has the authority to have things above and beyond, but at the minimum, we have to have what the state requires,” said Jackson. It was Baltimore City, however, that first required four years of math to graduate. This is a requirement that the state later adopted.

There have been some recent changes to the credit requirements that “took periods away from us,” said Askey. 

Students used to get their technology credit from their art classes. For example, classes like coding, sculpture, and music theory two would fill the requirement, according to Askey. However, the technology credit now needs to be a specific computer science  class. From an anonymous survey, one student expressed, “all of the film students took a year of coding with a professional in the field, but somehow did not earn a computer science credit. Very frustrating and confusing.”

Additionally, the class of 2025 and all future classes at BSA will need both health I and health II, each a .5 credit course, to graduate. Rather than the single .5 course, according to Askey.

But, Askey said a “more impactful addition to the BSA curriculum”, starting last year, is the addition of the AP Capstone course: AP Seminar and AP Research. These are two elective courses, meaning they are not required classes. Etienne said “a lot went into this decision” and that the goal for this course is to “provide the type of courses that help our students compete in the 21st century.”

Etienne expressed that they (the district) are learning more about what the conditions are for certain schools to be able to offer AP classes. And for BSA, it appears that “we don’t have the flexibility for certain students to take an elective class like Research and Seminar,” said Askey. 

BCPSS is working on implementing pre-AP programs. It is, as Etienne puts it, “an opportunity to not have to make the jump from honors to AP and struggle. We are taking a good look at our honors course now to find the gap of what could be pre-AP, to make sure we get this right.”

School size plays a role in the number of classes and types of classes schools can offer. Jackson said, “the smaller the school, the fewer students, staff, and things they are able to offer.” Staffing can also affect scheduling. “The master schedule is driven by who, in terms of human bodies, can be where at what times, so that’s a scheduling issue. Ever since 2020, it’s been really hard to hold on to teachers on a district level” said Etienne. 

“I am very familiar with the struggles BSA is having”, said Jackson. “My team works very closely with BSA. We are currently in the process of working with Human Capital and labor relations to navigate your schedule.” 

Jackson also acknowledged that a lot of BSA students do BCCC Dual Enrollment. According to Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) “the Dual Enrollment Program enables students to take college level courses and earn college credits while they are still enrolled in high school.”

 “I took computer science Dual Enrollment to accommodate my school schedule,” said one student from an anonymous survey. Askey expressed that “it’s nice to present students and families with options, but I do not like to tell you that you have to do this outside of school in order to graduate on time, but that is where we are with some of these add-on requirements.”

A student from an anonymous survey said: “there needs to be more conversation about when courses are taken even if they are required. I was given an advisory period sophomore year instead of health, which means I now need to take health as an upperclassman when there is less time in my schedule. I would not have known about it unless I had specifically sent Abby [BSA’s Guidance Counselor] an email.”

However, another student claims “it’s not really BSA’s fault, it’s the district’s. Mr. Askey fights with them a lot to try to help us. This is kinda part of the territory you sign up for when going to BSA. It sucks but, I don’t see how you wouldn’t expect it when you apply.”

Etienne said, “we are working hard, and we won’t always get it right. We are going to make mistakes, but that’s a good thing because we are going to learn from our mistakes.”

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