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New LPS graduation requirements take effect with freshman class

District's Class of 2021 will be the first to face new standards


Littleton High School is a big change for Ashton Haddock — and she'll be part of a big change for Littleton Public Schools.

The 14-year-old freshman had attended an Outward Bound school since kindergarten, where her lessons included rock climbing, backpacking and whitewater rafting.

But the adventure she most wanted to pursue was a more traditional high school experience, with more class offerings and classmates.

She's also part of the first class slated to graduate under the district's new graduation requirements, developed and tweaked over the last several years under guidance from the Colorado Department of Education.

The state-level requirements primarily dictate that students demonstrate math and English proficiency through a variety of testing or class options. Littleton Public Schools has augmented the standards with a postsecondary advising program called the Individual Career and Academic Plan, or ICAP. District requirements also mandate a minimum number of credits for graduation.

Just a month into her first year in high school, Haddock said she's not really sure what she wants to do afterward.

“I'm not really focused on that yet,” Haddock said. “I didn't really know how a traditional school worked — I love it here, but it's so different. I don't know what should come after.”

That's OK, said Clay Abla, Littleton Public Schools' Director of Secondary Education, who oversaw the development of the district's new requirements. Haddock and her teachers and counselors will figure it out together.

“This is about helping kids discover their pathways,” Abla said. “Where's your interest? What's the track that makes the most sense? Back in the old days, picking classes was based on what your friends were doing, or just what sounded interesting. But there weren't plans that you discussed with adults in the building. We're going to help kids make those plans as they come into school and plan for what it looks like after they graduate.”

That planning will come in the form of a program called Seminar, said Littleton High School counselor Mike Puchino.

In regular meetings, students will convene with teachers, counselors and administrators to review their academic progress, discuss future classes, and explore postsecondary options.

“We'll have career planning surveys and interest surveys, and keep track of their coursework,” Puchino said.

Career guidance is broadening out from the old days, Puchino said, when the conventional wisdom was that four-year college degrees were the gold standard of postsecondary options.

The school will hold its first-ever career trade and tech fair this spring.

“Trade and tech business groups have been coming to us and saying we need contractors, plumbers and HVAC people,” Puchino said. “We still send a lot of kids off to college, but tradespeople can do very well for themselves too.”

The district will help kids explore a range of options, including culinary school, health sciences, auto repair and STEM, Abla said.

Military recruiters are a larger presence now too, Puchino said.

The goal isn't to force kids to decide their life path too early, Abla said.

“It's a good age to be thinking about those questions,” Abla said. “It's a good age to plan. It's not about pressure and forcing them to make their life choice in high school. There are kids who do, though. Some knew they wanted to be a teacher or a certain profession since fifth grade. We're hoping to help and guide them, not force them into a track.”

The English and math competencies are another component. The district's requirements offer a “menu” of competency options, ranging from certain scores on the SAT or ACT tests, high marks in AP classes, minimum grades in certain courses and a host of other options.

“Most kids will meet these just in the course of their normal coursework,” Puchino said. “What we don't know yet is what will happen with juniors and seniors who haven't hit the requirements. Are we going to have remedial classes for them? Will they have special tests? That's still a work in progress. We should know more about that in the next couple years.”

The effectiveness of the new requirements won't be known for years, Puchino said.

“We'll have to see how the state responds to this first class of graduates,” Puchino said. “Will this help or hurt graduation rates? Will it give them the opportunities they want? These kids are the guinea pigs for the state.”


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