Changes Made to Required Social Studies Course Sequence

Students who have taken accelerated social studies courses in eighth grade no longer have to take them at Stuyvesant.

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Students who took accelerated social studies courses in eighth grade no longer have to take them at Stuyvesant. This year, the Stuyvesant administration has made the decision that students who took accelerated US History in eighth grade will no longer have to take it junior year, and will no longer be required to take a social studies course senior year.

At the moment, the traditional four-year social studies sequence involves some kind of Global History class freshman and sophomore year, US History junior year, and a government or economics class senior year. Beginning with the class of 2022, juniors who took US History and passed in eighth grade can take alternative social studies classes instead, including classes such as AP American Government, AP Comparative Government, AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, and all social studies electives.

Previously, even if students had taken the accelerated US History class, they would have to take the course again junior year at Stuyvesant, with some exceptions. They could take the AP version of the course, but there would still be repetition of content. This cost students one period in which they could be taking an elective.

Principal Eric Contreras has been involved with these changes. Prior to becoming principal, he was the Executive Director for Social Studies for the New York City Department of Education, meaning he has already been involved with the social studies curriculum. He rewrote the social studies curriculum for students in grades K-12, with unit guides for grade K-8, which hadn’t been updated in about 20 years. “It was a very satisfying piece of work because it was very intellectually demanding. It connected me with some experts in history, geography and economics, and it also allowed me to imagine ways of teaching history that were not just about memorizing things but about meaningful action and contextualizing and corroborating evidence, and looking at skills like chronological reasoning and geographical reasoning,” Contreras said.

Students have been able to skip courses in other departments for some time. In the math department, students are allowed to take geometry if they received a high enough score on the Algebra I Regents Exam and on the math placement exam. Students are also allowed to take more advanced language classes if they score high enough on the language placement exam at Stuyvesant.

However, this kind of change has not been applied to biology even if students took the accelerated course for it. This is because Contreras believes the Biology Regents exam is not challenging enough for Stuyvesant standards. “The challenge for me, as an educator, is that the current Living Environment Regents doesn’t have the sufficiency necessary to explore careers in life sciences. It is a very, very basic exam,” he said. Students who have completed the Living Environment Regents in eighth grade may take SAT II-level biology, or, after the changes made this year, may take AP classes such as AP Environmental Science or AP Biology.

The change has been under consideration for some time. It was rejected in the past, but as the number of students who took these accelerated courses in eighth grade each year increased, pressure was put on in favor of the change. “Because the number of students that have been coming to Stuyvesant with that high school course, credit, and Regents, as per the DOE guidelines, has been increasing, we don’t want them to take the course again. That is invalidating the time and energy they spent taking that course in eighth grade,” Contreras said.

Now, many students will be able to take one or two electives that they might not have been able to take before this change. “Skipping to AP Gov would allow me to specialize in my interests in social studies earlier and allow me to take electives with more background knowledge,” junior Julian Koya Wong said. He took US History in eighth grade, and is now interested in taking social studies electives such as New York City History and Geopolitics, as well as non-social studies electives such as Human Diseases and Advanced Robotics. When students in the incoming class of 2022 reach his position, they will be able to take either kind of electives in senior year.

“It gives you freedom of choice,” Contreras said. “A lot of the struggle at Stuyvesant is because we have so many more electives than most other high schools. We invest in teaching them. We invest in courses heavily. The dilemmas here are ‘which of these electives can I take, because I have so many choices.’ So it opens up an opportunity.”