Coursework in the core high school subjects—including math, science, social studies, English, and foreign language—usually follows a sequential progression, which varies depending on the school and the state. Math students, for example, often learn basic algebra, followed by geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus, often culminating in calculus. The concept is that, over the course of the series, classes build upon skills that students have learned previously, so that learning is cumulative.
Some schools, both private and public, also offer electives that follow this model. Rather than only offering one-off electives, these schools offer sequential pathways in subjects outside the core curriculum, like dance, original research, or nautical science. If you have a student in middle school, looking into elective options at the high schools you’re considering could help point the way to a great-fit educational experience for your child. For students already enrolled in a high school, awareness of the range of course offerings is of great service in building a curriculum tailored to your unique interests and talents. Read on to learn more about the sequential electives private and public high schools have to offer!
Select public high schools, largely concentrated in the New York area, offer sequences in conducting original research. Often, these programs span sophomore through senior years, and students’ research projects become increasingly complex from year to year as they learn the fundamentals of developing and carrying out an experiment. Some schools have one overall program, combining students in science, math, engineering, and social science research—like Ossining High School, where students apply to the Science Research Program in their freshman year in order to participate sophomore through senior years. At other schools, there are separate tracks for different subject areas. Schreiber High School in New York, for example, has three-year programs in math, science, and social science research. Typically students’ research activities culminate in a presentation, which can range from oral discussions of trifold boards at science fairs to a 20-page scientific paper submitted to national competitions like the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search. (To learn more about high school research programs, see our recent article in Insights!)
Have a child who isn’t so STEM-inclined? For students interested in learning business fundamentals at an early age, Midtown High School in Georgia offers the option of enrolling in an Entrepreneurship Pathway, which moves through an introductory course on business and technology; a course on the legal aspects of business ownership and management; and, finally, Entrepreneurship, which focuses on management skills. The program requires a school-based or community-based entrepreneurial project in which students create a business venture. Participants are also encouraged to join the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) student organization, which provides additional experience in developing business initiatives through competitive events.
Other public high schools offer sequential electives in creative areas. At Jericho High School in New York, for example, students have the option to study dance over a series of four courses. Dance I moves through the basic techniques of multiple dance styles—including hip hop, jazz, and modern/contemporary—as well as choreography. Once students have completed Dance I (or tested out of it with an audition), they can move on to Dance II, which teaches intermediate dance techniques and has students begin choreographing in small groups. In Dance III, students learn advanced techniques and are encouraged to choreograph pieces on their own. Dance IV teaches the most advanced techniques of the series, and students are required to choreograph an original piece for the school’s annual Choreo showcase.
Private school pathways similarly offer a prescribed series of courses in a particular subject area, but at Tabor Academy in Massachusetts—designated a “Naval Honor School” by the United States Navy—students have the option to enroll in a Nautical Science curriculum that culminates, pending departmental approval, in Naval Honor citation. The coursework includes a trimester Nautical Science course (which provides foundational knowledge), Celestial Navigation (which teaches the theory of navigation by the sun, moon, planets and stars), Maritime History (which covers seafaring, navies, merchant shipping and piracy), Research & Environmental Education Focus, and a minimum of two seasons of service as an officer on the Tabor Boy, the school’s ninety-two-foot schooner.
STEM-oriented students have a different pathway option at The Emery/Weiner School in Texas, which offers a Technology curriculum. The sequence begins in middle school, with sixth-grade coursework in Digital Literacy and Coding, then moves through a progression of Engineering Concepts and Robotics courses, all possible before ninth grade. In high school, students learn to create mobile apps and study digital imaging and computer programming while continuing to build their knowledge of robotics. The goal is to become creative problem-solvers and learn to use a variety of techniques and approaches.
Alternatively, for students inclined toward politics and global studies, The Potomac School in Virginia is a worthwhile option to consider. The school’s Global Perspectives and Citizenship Program begins with an introductory course in Global Studies during sophomore year, followed by an additional elective chosen in consultation with the program director. In their junior and senior years, students in this program pursue original research on a global issue. Recent projects have explored the role Hezbollah has played in Lebanon since the 1980s, compared school systems in France and America, investigated whether mega-sporting events benefit host countries, and more. The same school offers creatively-inclined students the chance to apply to the Visual and Performing Arts Concentration in ninth grade. The program, which begins sophomore year, offers different tracks for music, theater, and visual arts students; each requires specific coursework, complemented by rigorous practice time.
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