Changes ahead for Naperville District 203’s junior high exploratory program  

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Naperville School District 203’s long-running exploratory program for junior high students will undergo a few tweaks in the upcoming school year, following a recent vote from the board of education.

Over the course of several recent meetings, District 203’s board and administrators have been discussing a phased rollout of two new junior high-level exploratory classes that are a part of college and career readiness instruction.

The program is designed to give junior high students the opportunity to dabble in a number of different subject areas to help gauge their interest and begin spurring thoughts of what they might want to pursue after graduating high school.

What changes are ahead for the exploratory program

At a meeting on Dec. 18, board members voted, 6-1, in favor of two new courses within the junior high exploratory program.

The new offerings include a computer science course for innovators and makers and is linked to the national Project Lead the Way program. The second new course, code explorers, touches on computer coding.

The classes join a range of other existing offerings across five specialized subject areas under the exploratory program: fine arts, engineering, computer science, family and consumer science and world and classical languages.

‘The landscape of learning has changed’

Jayne Willard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said several factors led to the integration of the two new courses, including an overall look at how the exploratory program can be most effectively delivered with today’s students in mind.

“We started this 20 years ago,” Willard said of the explorers program. “Things have changed — the landscape of learning has changed. We are a high-performing school district, and our students tend to do very well.”

There were questions of how the changes would impact staffing resources and instructional time. To that end, Willard said teachers have been — and will continue to be — involved in helping assemble the granular details.

“Just like any other curriculum that we write in our district, this is done with teachers,” Willard said. “We have teachers involved in the curriculum; they help write the curriculum. This would be no different.”

Board mostly supportive of the changes

During deliberations at the Dec. 18 meeting, a majority of the board favored the addition of the new courses.

Board member Donna Wandke said she had heard comments from junior high students in the past who had hoped iterations of some of the new offerings were available in prior years.

“I appreciate you thinking outside the box,” Wandke said. “I’m excited to see that we’re moving forward and trying some things.”

Board President Kristine Gericke echoed similar sentiments, saying, “I’m just grateful that our kids are going to have more choices. It’s an opportunity for them to try different things before high school. Thanks for the refinements and reviews of how we can better serve our students.

But board member Melissa Kelley Black, who cast the dissenting vote, said she was concerned with unintended consequences.

“I’m not sure I want to put more on everyone’s plate without really thinking this out,” Kelley Black said. “I’d like to see it brought back for more discussion.”

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