Science Curriculum Changes
BY NOSARA MAXWELL '23
On January 13, ABRHS Science Department Head David Baumritter introduced a change to the order of courses in the science curriculum. His presentation during a school committee meeting sparked discourse throughout the AB community.
In short, all incoming freshmen will take Environmental Science with three level options: unleveled, honors, and Advanced Placement (AP), which is currently only offered to upperclassmen. Freshmen will not be able to take Honors Biology any longer. This new path offers students an AP science course for all four years of high school (Environmental Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) without “doubling up” as upperclassmen. The new arrangement will also eliminate the existing prerequisite courses for AP Chemistry and Biology while providing a safety net of lower-level courses.
Mr. Baumritter explained the change’s two primary goals: to ensure that all students take environmental science and to increase access to advanced coursework.
Indeed, environmental science affects our society immeasurably. As described by biology teacher Ms. Ryden, “Earth and environmental science is pressing:” students must confront climate change and other environmental issues every day. Further, environmental science interacts with all fields of work, and Baumritter emphasized the science department’s “civic responsibility” to teach the curriculum to all students.
The second goal addresses many students’ struggle to access advanced science coursework. Only 25% of freshmen currently take biology, and the remaining 75% cannot take the same high-level science classes. “The new model provides multiple flexible pathways for students to access advanced coursework and a “safety net” for each AP science course where students can change into a non-AP science course,” explained Mr. Baumritter.
Biology teacher Mr. Dempsey added that “the revised science curriculum at ABRHS will create an equitable and streamlined progression of science classes” as well as offer more science course choices. Many welcome this change, but some AB parents are wary.
Parents are frustrated that students can no longer take Biology freshman year. Many consider biology more valuable, and they feel that the changes limit opportunities, not expand them. Parents took to the Acton-Boxborough School Community Facebook group, continuing the conversation about academic pressure in the school district.
In a Facebook post, Emma Gearan ’21, responded to a discontented parent’s post, explaining her experience at AB compared to her college experience. “[AB] prepares students for college, and a minor change to the science curriculum…will not majorly impact [their] future.” Gearan explained that the curriculum allows students to explore their interests before college. “When I read these posts I’m reminded of my least favorite parts of AB, and I hope that when this change is made, everyone can try to make it a more positive experience for future students,” wrote Gearan. Many alums and parents supported her words, and despite opposing views, most students agree this change benefits every learner at ABRHS.
Moreover, students identified social barriers between those who take biology freshman year and those who do not. “I think eliminating [the divide between science classes] would definitely eliminate the stigma that kids have towards the school and…success academically,” explained Sanjana Rao ’22. She agreed that students often believe their freshman year science course determines their intelligence or their academic success. Rao believes the change will benefit everyone: individual students, families, and the overall student body.
The science department expects to finalize this change in the spring; they hope to develop a more positive experience for students in the science curriculum. While opinions diverge on this topic, Baumritter expressed his gratitude for all feedback. “It is encouraging that there are so many people in the community that have strong feelings about their student's high school science education,” he said. The science department will work with students, teachers, and administrators to most benefit AB students, and the community hopes to improve mental health and reduce academic pressure at ABRHS.