Vancouver Eliminated Its High School Honors Programs — But Is This A Good Idea?

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I was a very average student. I knew it, my teachers knew it, and my friends (many of them were honors students) knew it. However, I was in honors English and it was my favorite class, the one place where I felt I actually liked school.

Things didn’t come naturally to me in school, and whenever the list for honors students came out, I felt ashamed.

When I graduated, I didn’t get one of those ribbons showing everyone I was an honor student. It made me feel small.

I just watched my son march down the same aisle I did when I graduated, sans ribbons.

None of my kids make the honor roll very often. I think it’s happened to each of them a few times, but it’s not consistent.

We are very average people when it comes to academics, and I have accepted that, I am fine with it, and I want to teach my kids to be comfortable with it too — because I wasn’t at their age.

However, do I think honors programs in high schools should still exist even though my kids will never participate in them or be recognized for academics? Yes, I do.

The Vancouver School Board has recently decided to drop their honors programs in science and math — they let their honors English program phase out a few years ago.

The Globe And Mail reports, “The Vancouver School Board is cutting honours courses in math and science in its high schools because the school district says they do not comply with the equity and inclusion goal of ensuring that all students can participate in every aspect of the curriculum.”

As an alternative, teachers are going to be responsible for honing in on each student to support their individual academic needs.

I do understand the goal in inclusion. I do remember the way it made me feel in high school to not be a part of something, to not graduate with honors, and to feel less-than.

However, I also was glad there was a place for me to learn at my pace, and honors students need to feel the same way.

Natasha Broemling has a daughter attending VSB and she is an alumni herself who tells The Globe and Mail, “I find it very interesting that the VSB is using exclusion as the reason for taking away these classes because they were, in fact, the places where I felt the safest.”

Parents are also worried their kids are going to slip through the cracks under the new curriculum plan, and I would be too.

Just as I wanted my son taken out of Academic Chemistry last year because he was floundering, parents want to make sure their kids are being challenged and are in the right classes.

We all know kids are different, learn differently, and it makes sense there are different levels of classes for everyone in order to do their best.

And what is this going to do to the teachers? While I am not a teacher myself, it sounds like a big ask to hold one teacher responsible for making sure all their students, who are all over the board academically, have some kind of individualized program based on their needs. Isn’t that why honors classes developed in the first place?

It’s okay for kids to realize others learn differently, or faster or slower, than they do. It teaches them resilience. If they don’t learn this at school age, are they going to go into the workforce and wonder why they aren’t being paid the same wage as someone with more schooling or experience?

Instead, I think teachers and schools should keep honors programs and take the time to remind students we all learn differently — that being in an honors class or program doesn’t make that student better than anyone else, and these programs are in place so everyone can learn at their level.

Dr. Owen Lo, who is a special education expert, tells The Globe and Mail that while he thinks teachers should be trained to teach all levels of learning, cutting this program is not the right answer. “‘It’s about addressing the equity issue within the program, rather than cancelling,’ he said, adding that teachers may already be struggling to meet the needs of multi leveled classrooms.”

Dr. Lo goes on to say that when you add kids into a classroom who are gifted, they will be the first ones to be overlooked, and they may not be challenged in the right way.

To me, it seems like all the kids are going to suffer by eliminating this program. Yes, I want my very average kids to feel confident and safe while they are at school, but completely taking something away from honors students isn’t the answer. Just as kids lose interest when they are taking a class that’s too difficult, kids who aren’t challenged lose interest in school too.

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