I still remember applying to colleges like it was yesterday. I had taken a lot of advanced courses and maintained an average that had earned me High Honor Roll consistently throughout my high school years in Seaford (class of 1998!). I was ranked 18th in my class, and had taken 6 AP Courses with scores high enough to earn college credits. Luckily for me, the courses I chose in high school earned me a full ride to CW Post (now LIU) and because I had earned 18 college credits, I was able to graduate early. Graduating early allowed me to student teach in the fall, rather than the traditional spring slot. That led me to be hired as a permanent sub, then fill a leave replacement, and finally be hired as a full time teacher. I have spent 21 years in the Bellmore School District, and I truly believe the only reason I was lucky enough to get hired right out of college was because of the opportunities I had in high school.
Students in Wantagh have an impressive list of course offerings to choose from (many, many more than what was available when I attended high school all those long years ago). As we read through the booklet this year and prepared for my son to enter HS in the fall, I was beyond impressed by the number of opportunities students are given, including AP classes (some available to 9th graders), college dual enrollment courses, and the AP Capstone program.
The purpose of all of these offerings is to challenge students academically, and signals to potential colleges that students apply to the level of academic excellence they are capable of. The AP Capstone program in particular helps give students an edge when applying to colleges. The district course guide states, “AP Capstone is an innovative diploma program that helps you stand out in the college admission process by developing the critical skills needed to succeed in college and in life.” Wantagh Superintendent John McNamara explains, “we offer a wide range of AP and college level courses, particularly for a high school of our size. The expansion of these programs, including AP Capstone, have provided tremendous opportunities for our students and continue to make Wantagh High School students extremely competitive when applying for college admissions and very well prepared when they arrive in college. Many of our students leave Wantagh High School with college credits and with introductory college requirements already satisfied.”
Wantagh Grad Keri Balnis (Class of 2016) believes that the benefits of the college level courses can not be overstated. “I think the college level courses gave me a trial run before going to an actual university,” she says. “It let me try out new courses to make sure I was going to major in something [in college] I enjoyed, while obtaining credits that eventually led to me graduating an entire year early. Also, financially it was more affordable to take these courses in high school compared to college, so I saved money in the long run.”
In addition to the vast selection of AP and College Enrollment Courses, Wantagh High Schoolers can also choose between a wide variety of electives, from Art, Business Education, Family and Consumer Services, Music, Sciences, Social Studies, Technology, and Vocational Education. There is literally something for everyone.
Aside from giving students a leg up as they start to apply to colleges, having such a tremendous amount of electives allow students to explore topics that interest them. I spoke to two WHS grads about their experiences. “The ability to choose courses that interested me, challenged me, and opened my mind changed my life,” said Brendan von Runnen (WHS Class of 2016). “ It is through these courses that I found my career calling.” Brendan is an Intelligence Analyst for the Nassau Police Department.
Deidre Golden (WHS Class of 2004) agrees. “I always excelled in ELA and Social Studies, but Math and Science were a struggle,” she explained to me. “Having the opportunity to take electives like forensics and marine biology finally interested me and built confidence that I didn’t usually have in that area.”
In March 2022, following a growing number of states enacting bans on certain materials believed by some to be “controversial” or “divisive,” the College Board warned against censorship and sent a reminder to AP teachers about program principals. On their website, they write:
“If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities. For example, the concepts of evolution are at the heart of college biology, and a course that neglects such concepts does not pass muster as AP Biology.”
Calls for books and texts to be banned can even be heard during public comment periods at school board meetings. Anyone who believes that we should separate from the College Board and deny students access to AP classes would be putting our graduates at a huge disadvantage. Furthermore, cutting electives (a possibility whenever the budget does not pass) would deny access to courses that might spark an interest in something that might lead to a future career choice.
When voting this year, please carefully consider the cost of not having the budget pass, as well as voting for any board member who opposed giving students the wide variety of course offerings. Our children’s education should always be our number one priority. Putting students at an academic disadvantage would have lasting implications beyond their 4 years at Wantagh High School.