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Curriculum changes considered at Mars Area

Rhithm mental health app removed from agenda

ADAMS TWP — Mars Area students may soon no longer have to take physics courses in order to graduate.

Eliminating the physics graduation requirement was among potential curriculum changes presented by Mars Area High School principal Lindsay Rosswog at the board meeting Tuesday night.

If the package of curriculum changes is approved at the upcoming school board meeting in December, beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, students will be able to choose between physics courses and a handful of new science electives to fill their third required science credit.

“Right now, all students have to take three credits of science. That will stay the same,” Rosswog said. “We just don’t want to dictate that that third credit has to be physics. For some students, it may still choose to be, so we will still leave Conceptual Physics, Regular Physics, AP Physics 1 and 2 as options for our students, but we want to look to add some additional science options for our students.”

The new electives, which include “Environmental Science, Sustainability and Society,” “Electricity and Magnetism,” and “Bioengineering,” were “largely teacher-driven,” according to Rosswog.

The environmental course explores environmental science, ecology and human impact, and the bioengineering class combines an environmental and biomedical approach to solving real-life problems. The Electricity and Magnetism course is “looking to be very hands-on” and would involve students in regular lab projects centered around circuits and wiring.

“Science is an area where we don’t have a ton of elective offerings,” Rosswog said. “I just think it will kind of better serve students to be able to take science courses that may interest them or may align to future careers instead of having to take physics as a graduation requirement.”

Other changes would add further class options in the speech and debate and computer programming fields, as well as slightly alter the prerequisite requirements for AP Physics classes, making AP Physics require further math experience before students try their hand at the course.

Transcript changes

Rosswog’s recommendations also included a suggestion to remove all test scores from official school transcripts. The move would standardize the district’s record keeping, as some students have taken Keystone tests, and some haven’t. The change would also follow a recommendation from the College Board not to include SAT results in the same document as the transcript.

“Students can choose to send their scores for SATs and ACTs to whatever colleges they would like, so they recommend not to have it on the transcripts,” Rosswog said. “There is the option that if a student wants their SAT scores added on, we can add it on for them.”

Proposed changes also include a shift in how transfer credits from outside educational institutions are handled. If approved, Mars Area would no longer accept transfer credits as applying towards graduation, beginning with the current ninth grade class.

Students would not be prevented from taking courses at outside providers on their own.

“They can take whatever courses they would like, but we just want to limit and tighten up the procedures for those courses coming back onto our transcripts and counting for our graduation requirements,” she said. “We want to try to keep the integrity of a Mars Area School District diploma by being earned from courses taken at Mars (Area) High School within the Mars Area School District.”

Rhithm not approved

Board members also voted not to go ahead with a test of the proposed Rhithm classroom well-being app. The app describes itself as a “K-12 student and staff wellness check-in tool” which invites students to check in on their mood and well-being with an “emoji-based” survey.

At a previous board meeting Nov. 1, board members raised concerns about the app with regards to potential liability for teachers and administrators, privacy, and the rights of students and parents.

Parents spoke at the meeting Tuesday asking the district not to approve the app.

“While I feel that the intention to help acknowledge kids who are having anxiety, stress or food insecurity is a great thing and a good intention, I just don’t think a third-party app is the way to do it,” said Mars parent Kelly Dunn, adding that she felt the app didn’t have enough parent involvement.

“I think it’s exposing the school district to a lot of liability and opening up a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of issues,” Dunn added.

Board member Lee Ann Riner thanked parents and community members for providing feedback on the proposed app test program.

“I understand and appreciate that everyone here has the best of intentions, and I think everyone’s sharing that same sentiment,” said board member Sallie Wick, who first raised concerns about the app Nov. 1. “I want to thank administration for so respectfully and receptively hearing the board’s concerns last week regarding the Rhithm app and being so willing and open to looking for other options.”

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