Students, staff consider the impact, cause of students dropping classes

Counselor Jennifer Twohey meets with freshman Evan Hildebrandt to discuss his current academic schedule. “All students can start dropping a class on the 6th day of the semester through the 15th day of the semester,” Twohey said. Photo by Tanya Koomjohn and Alex Prince.

The initial excitement of the school year quickly fades as students determine alternative courses or opportunities they would like to pursue and begin to seek a change in their schedule. A line that blocks the width of the hallway rapidly forms outside of the Student Services’ office as students swarm their counselors like bees, requesting to drop their most difficult or challenging class. Many look to fill their dropped class with a study hall or substitute another elective, while others become office runners and TA’s. Upperclassmen may also elect to arrive to school late or leave early in order to eliminate that credit all together.  

The school offers a plethora of classes that range from nearly every in-depth, skill-specific elective to every basic, prerequisite class. With so many options, students are able to personalize their high school academia to fit their desired career path and future as a whole, but it can lead to a number of students dropping courses at the last minute, sometimes well into the semester.

And the reasons why can be varied indeed.

Senior Ethan Klosterman originally enrolled in AP Spanish Language in order to maintain and practice Spanish for a planned gap year in Costa Rica. He said he no longer felt it was useful to partake in this course as he no longer wishes to travel abroad during his gap year.

“We start to understand what we want to do, so our interests become more concentrated and things we thought we wanted to do become unrelated,” Klosterman said. “It’s smarter to drop unnecessary courses to focus on what you are really interested in.”

Similarly, the Assistant Principal for Student Services Daniel Arntzen said that taking electives and AP courses of interest now can help prepare a student for their potential future. 

“There’s some great electives we have here. I think it’s great because it is truly teaching skills, and if you learn those skills here you can go off to college and decide you want to do that,” Arntzen said. “Education is really about getting your toolbelt filled as far as what you can do with the rest of your life.”

Students are inclined to consider their future more with this many opportunities. The specific admission standards for colleges and universities have students altering their four-year plans to adhere to these requirements, although not everyone follows through with this mindset. Junior Cailee Zukauskas opted to drop Spanish 2 and pursue the online version of the class, which she ultimately found to be easier. However, initial participation in the course was rooted in expectations rather than interests.

“I signed up for the class because colleges look for other languages on transcripts, so I thought it would be a good idea,” Zukauskas said.

This scenario occurs more frequently than expected. In fact, based on a poll of 500 students at the school, around 44% of students admitted to dropping a foreign language class sometime during their high school career.

What course(s) have you dropped?

Poll based on a cross-section of East students

Other popular responses of classes students dropped include fine arts, engineering, and career and tech electives as well as science classes. 

Science teacher Corey Puckett, who only instructs honors and advanced placement science courses, said he feels that the yearning to learn and acquire experiences should outweigh any artificial mentality of wanting to impress an admissions counselor on a transcript.

“At that point, you get in a situation where, ‘Oh, I’m only taking that class because I need to or for credit’ as opposed to ‘How can this class make me a better student?’” Puckett said. 

Class selection is not only influenced by college entry requirements, but is more directly shaped by reaching high school graduation standards. The school requires individuals to have taken at least four credits of English, three credits of math, and 2-1/2 credits of science and social studies each in order to graduate. This merely pertains to core class requirements.

When asked about how these requirements can impact student decisions for taking more challenging courses, English teacher Tamara DiPrima said that she felt like many students have the ability to be successful in higher level courses, and should take advantage of their adequacy.

“If you’re capable, an AP Lit class isn’t a whole lot more work than another literature class,” DiPrima said. “They’re all college prep, they all have reading, they all have writing.”

Higher level courses consistently have lower turnouts than base-level classes, due to numerous students only concerned with reaching the sine qua non of graduating.

Senior Aarnav Kunde furthermore said he feels seniors are more likely to drop classes because their college applications are complete and they already have enough credits to graduate. Kunde dropped out of psychology and took economics instead. He said that he felt the class was unnecessary, compared with other things he was undertaking.

“I signed up for psychology because it was a random social studies class that I had to take in order to get a semester’s worth of credit,” Kunde said. He found a way to prioritize his commitments by being involved in numerous honor societies, even holding the role of president in Rho Kappa. 

The consensus among teachers, counselors, and administrators is that many students are completely capable of assuming advanced courses but sell themselves short too early on, and tend to drop challenging classes pre-maturely. 

“I would like to see it where the students give the course at least a semester,” Puckett said. “I wish there was a little more patience, because I think a lot of the time students get in a situation where maybe the class is too hard at first, but then they look back at the end of the year and think, ‘Boy, I’m really glad I took that class.’”

Arntzen agreed that students should stick with a class and truly discover what the course entails before discussing with their counselors about dropping. He said that students tend to make snap judgements about a course and don’t give it a chance. 

“So as far as why that line exists out the door, there’s multiple reasons why, but for some of them, ‘Let’s try it a little bit longer and see if you can make it work,’” Arntzen said. 

What was the greatest contributing factor to dropping a course?

Poll based on a cross-section of East students

In continued polling, it was found that about 27% of students who have dropped classes attributed their main motive to be the style of teaching, by not responding well or finding difficulty in the rigor of the course. 

Arntzen further said that communication between teachers and students is crucial for the success of the student. A lot of times these conversations work in conjunction with how a class is perceived and how well students venture to take it. 

“You’d be surprised how many times that someone wants to drop a class and hasn’t had a conversation with their teacher. Sometimes there’s not a very good answer besides, ‘I think it’s going to be hard for me,’ but the first couple weeks might be challenging and after that the workload lightens,” Arntzen said. “Building a rapport with the teacher and having that first conversation turns into a situation where you think, ‘I can handle this.’”

Despite the encouragement to persist and proceed onto a challenge, the majority of students said they dropped a class due to being unprepared or failing it altogether. Counselor Tiffany Morelli said she observed mainly freshmen dropping classes. She said this could be attributed to the jump from junior high to high school and the drastic transition in workload and course tribulation.

“Students are maybe a little overambitious and sign up for all honors. They bite off more than they can chew. Then they end up regretting doing that and kind of feel like they need to drop down a level,” Morelli said. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it is no surprise to notice seniors dropping classes more than second and third year students. Many upperclassmen take advantage of opportunities such as late arrival, early dismissal, and helping out as an office runner, library assistant, or classroom aide.

There are older students who do wish to continue in a previous commitment, though the circumstances of school and life combined cause them to feel burdened and lighten their load. Fatima Lopez Villarino teaches AP Spanish classes, and has seen this situation play out before her eyes. One student in particular dropped one of her higher level classes, and Lopez got a sense of the reasoning behind this action.

“Especially for the AP girl, I know she was a senior with a lot of AP classes,” Lopez said. “I think it was a matter of trying to fit whatever was most important to her into her super busy schedule.”

Senior Sloane Johnson can attest to an overbearing workload as she enrolled in several AP classes for her final year of high school. Johnson said she dropped out of AP Environmental Science because it was no longer imperative for her ambition to major in psychology. She continued to state a feasible understanding of why seniors are more inclined to drop courses. 

“Students are maybe a little overambitious and sign up for all honors. They bite off more than they can chew. Then they end up regretting doing that and kind of feel like they need to drop down a level.”

— Counselor Tiffany Morelli

“A lot of seniors get lazy and don’t want to do things they thought they did when they made their schedule,” Johnson said. “To me, it makes more sense to drop a class and go home early than be miserable in that class. Mainly seniors just want an easy year.”

Due to the frequency of seniors switching their schedules and the high concentration of the student population, there are limited class options to substitute for. Besides a study hall, seniors are mainly left with these alternative opportunities like leaving school or assuming the role of an office runner. 

Therefore, counselors find difficulty in altering schedules after the school year has already started. For students to make more informed decisions about their schedules, a potential solution could be to make course selection later in the year. However, Tiffany Morelli said this idea is not fundamentally possible.  

“In order to determine staffing for next year, get the course catalog out, and make the schedule, course selection needs to be early,” Morelli said. “It’s very intricate, each moving part of it and the sooner we do it, it’s easier to deal with conflicts at the end of the year.”

Likewise, counselor Alisa Sloan said it would be difficult to change the timing of course selection. Nonetheless, she said it is important for students to spend time researching various course options and be knowledgeable in the path they trail.

“Sometimes classes don’t run because students don’t sign up for it and don’t take the time to look into it earlier,” Sloan said. “That’s why we’re so big on really paying attention when you’re choosing your classes.”

The agreed consent that maintaining an informed or knowledgeable understanding of the class could eliminate dropping it, is not a trend seen in every student.

On a more general scope, a large portion of the student population is involved in some form of a sport or club outside of their regular academics. Several student-athletes, including junior football player Michael Miller and junior volleyball player Joey Johnson, agree that participating in these extra activities play a role in course selection and make the ultimate goal of doing well in classes harder to attain. 

Johnson admits that extracurriculars can impact student performance, as it pertains to energy and focus, but finds ways to combat the syndrome of student laziness.

“It’s all about time management,” Johnson said. “That means using every free minute I have to get homework in my classes done and be as successful as I can.”

Tanya Koomjohn & Alex Prince are staff writers for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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