By Linda Conner Lambeck
WESTPORT — The Board of Education gave unanimous approval Tuesday for two new college-level courses to be offered at Staples High School starting next fall.
One is an Advanced Placement psychology course, the other a seminar in academic writing that could earn students four University of Connecticut credits.
The courses will join 25 Advanced Placement courses and five UConn Early College Experience courses already part of the Staples course catalogue. Staples also has 38 honors classes.
“When you get to Staples, as a parent and and actually see the classes and course offerings … it looks like college-level classes,” board Secretary Neil Phillips said at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he was not aware of the school’s full breadth of offerings until his children reached high school.
Lauren Francese, head of the social studies department at Staples, called the AP psychology course a long time in coming.
“We’ve had a lot of requests for AP psych,” Francese said.
The one-year course joins two electives the school already offers in psychology. Students must already have taken U.S. history. In its first year, it will only be offered to seniors.
Robert Shamberg, a Staples social studies teacher, said the nine-unit course will start with the basics and conclude with clinical psychology — the content students probably associate with the subject.
Students will be introduced to research methods, the advantages, and disadvantages of each and when they should be used. They will also learn how to appropriately use statistics when presenting data.
The new class is not expected to add to the district’s 2023-24 budget as the textbooks were already part of the district plan and teacher training has already been done, the school board was told.
“I think it will be popular,” Francese said. “It is very popular elsewhere.”
She said Staples is an outlier in not offering the course among peer districts.
Board members said they are excited.
“I think it will be wildly popular,” said board member Christina Torres. The mother of a high school senior, Torres said her daughter reports some classmates are angry it will not to be offered until next year.
The UConn Literacy, Identity and Community course, meanwhile, is a semester-long writing course required by all first-year UConn students.
At Staples, it will be offered to juniors and seniors. UConn sets the curriculum and trains the teachers. In addition to earning a district half-credit toward graduation, students who successfully complete the course will get a UConn transcript and four college credits transferable to many colleges, said Holly Sulzycki, the district’s secondary English coordinator.
The course is not about writing traditional essays, but will help students learn to recognize and respond to a range of rhetorical situations, analyze arguments, conduct field research and learn the definition and impact of multiple forms of literacy, including digital, as it applies to different disciplines.
Writing for English is very different than writing for social studies or business, board members were told.
“It will help students consider processes, choices and moves they will make throughout their lives as writers and creators of content,” Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice told the board in a memo.
The district is still awaiting final approval from UConn on the course offering.
Staples staff is also working on a way to fully explain the course to students.
“I love this class,” said board Chairwoman Lee Goldstein. “This is very in line with how colleges are teaching first-year seminars.”
Michele Carey-Moody, co-president of the Staples PTA, said she was thrilled to hear about both offerings.
“It’s wonderful and brilliant,” she said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Freelance writer Linda Conner Lambeck, a reporter for more than four decades at the Connecticut Post and other Hearst publications, is a member of the Education Writers Association.