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Writing is on wall for Nashua freshmen

Union Leader Correspondent

January 14. 2013 11:46PM

NASHUA - Beginning in 2017, all freshmen will be required to take a writing class in addition to English 1.

The change was approved by the board of education on Monday night.

Assistant Principal Dr. Althea Sheaff said students would take English 1 one semester and the new writing course the other semester.

"Writing is a life activity," Sheaff said. "We want students to be able to write for college and career readiness, but also for economic reasons and for civic reasons."

Though it won't be phased in for several years, the class will be a requirement for all freshmen, regardless of proficiency level.

Sheaff said the effort is part of a pro-writing push that has taken place in recent years, including the implementation of a sixth-grade writing class last year and a literacy class for seventh-graders two years ago.

"What we see as our next step is to have writing embedded in all courses, that they be embedded in history classes, math classes," she said. "It's an effort, K through 12, that we need to address, for writing - all students, all ages, in all classes."

Board member Kimberly Muise was skeptical, though she said she was familiar with writing issues through her children.

"I get the need for more writing, but are we sure we have enough room for other studies to be taken?" she said. "I don't want students skipping math."

Sheaff said the new course would not in any way impact or limit students' ability to take other courses.

Shannon Boucher, one of two student representatives to the school board who were sworn in Monday night, questioned the prospect of an additional class, saying students could have to drop an elective course that is important to them.

Nashua South head English teacher Susan Rourke said that with block schedules, students have the opportunity to take more electives than ever before.

"We used to have 28 opportunities . now we have 32, so there are quite a number of opportunities for students to take their electives," Rourke said. "We believe that this course will put students in a good position to read informational text and then write about that text, across all content areas, which will encourage them to take elective courses in other content areas through their four years in high school."

The course is considered "unleveled" because all students will take the course and receive the same pacing and instruction. That will allow the high schools to meet a requirement by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits the high schools. Rourke said NEASC requirements state that in the next accreditation process there must be one unleveled course taken by all students, in a core area.

Though required, the course will not add to the 32 needed to graduate.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said the research is becoming clear that writing is a key element for literacy, making sense not only in English class but all the way through the different content areas.

"The conversation was really around the foundational need for good writing," he said, "not just having literacy across the disciplines, but it goes beyond the common core."

The board approved revisions to the English Language Learner programs, which operate on five course levels, following approval by the curriculum and evaluation committee.

A full time para-educator was also approved to work on behavioral issues for a half-year at Fairgrounds Elementary School.

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