STHS English department years ahead of Common Core State Standards |

STHS English department years ahead of Common Core State Standards

Axie Navas

Saying goodbye to “Macbeth” was hard for South Tahoe High School’s English Department Chairwoman Bridey Heidel, but it’s a choice that she thinks ultimately paid off.

South Tahoe High School started introducing more nonfiction at the high school level almost a decade ago, a move that’s left the district ahead of the curve as other schools scramble to meet new national curricular standards.

Since 2009, 46 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, academic benchmarks that describe what students’ proficiency should be annually in each subject.

The federal English-language arts standards outline that by 12th grade, students should be reading 70 percent nonfiction – or informational – texts, a requirement that has some parents and educators worried that literary favorites will disappear.

But at South Tahoe High School, the painful cuts have already been made.

The California State University system approached the high school about eight years ago with findings that showed more than 60 percent of the students passing through California’s high schools needed remedial classes in English, math or both.

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A component of the organization’s answer involved introducing upperclassmen to nonfiction so they could improve their critical reading skills before college, and it presented schools with a two-year program for 11th and 12th grade as part of the Early Assessment Program. The program was a collaborative effort between the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education and the CSU to get California high school graduates ready to enter the state’s university system fully prepared for college.

South Tahoe High School took the initiative one step further by implementing a new critical reading and writing curriculum throughout the school.

When they realized the emphasis on nonfiction seemed to be working, school administrators decided to substitute British literature at the 12th-grade level for a critical reading and writing class comprised of 75 percent nonfiction and 25 percent fiction.

“As an English teacher it was tough to make the switch to nonfiction, but because we kept part of the fiction piece, it was a little easier. My love as an English teacher is for literature, but we understand that we’re preparing them for college, and much of what they’ll read is nonfiction,” Heidel said.

Ninth- and 10th-graders read about 75 percent fiction. That number decreases to 50 percent by 11th grade and finally to 25 percent during a student’s senior year. Seniors will focus on nonfiction and their final project, and read one novel of their teachers’ choosing.

Heidel’s continued with “Beowulf,” and she said other educators have had to make the choice between teaching the Old English epic poem or sticking with Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth.”

Frank Kovac, another STHS English teacher, said that the importance of fiction can’t be overlooked. Nonfiction might be more easily accessible, but it shouldn’t replace literature.

“I think there’s a lot more opportunities for critical thinking with fiction –and I’m a big fan of critical thinking,” Kovac said.

Registration open for children’s winter break camps

CONNECT, Lake Tahoe Community College’s community education program, will offer a series of two-day winter break camps for children. Choose from an outdoor adventure camp at Adventure Mountain, an indoor sports camp or an art workshop. Prices range from $80 to $144. The camps start Dec. 27 and run through Jan. 4. For more information, call 530-541-4660, ext. 717.

Teen slumber party to take place on New Year’s Eve

EFit and Sports will host an all-night teen slumber party starting at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 and ending at 10 a.m. on Jan. 1. Teens can enjoy dancing, live music, black jack, obstacle course, laser tag, dodgeball and movies. Dinner and breakfast are included with the $40 fee. For more information, call 775-291-6032.

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