What was a 1990s Public High School education like in New York State?

I attended a public high school in New York State, USA.  The county I lived in was one of the more affluent in the state, and the school district was considered a good one.  I graduated from high school in the year 2000. I’ve been thinking a bit about my education, and about the gaps that are in it and why, and thought maybe I’d write a bit for someone researching the topic in the future.  So here’s a truly “evergreen” blog post, recalling my memories from high school.

I had this plan to graduate in 3 years, which was possible because the required credits could be fit into that time period.  I had to take 2 sciences one year and 2 English classes another year.

There were 2 “tracks” that most students were in, as there was a big emphasis on preparing students for a college education. There were the “Regents” and “Honors/AP” tracks.  Because I was doubling up to graduate early, I had to take a mix of these classes.  For example I took 10th grade English Regents class and 11th grade English AP, at the same time.  Even though I qualified for all honors classes, they didn’t fit in my schedule, so I had the unique experience of seeing the difference in education between these tracks. (Side note: Kids who were unlikely to go to college were encouraged to take a technical course at Boces for half of the school day. These technical courses included cosmetology (training to be a hairdresser) and computer repair. )

Regents classes were aimed at getting students to pass the “Regents” test at the end of the year.  The curriculum was from the New York State government, and it was supposed to provide a good preparation for college.  The teaching style was “to the test.” Basically, throughout the year, weekly quizzes contained previous years’ test questions.  The questions were all multiple choice and very similar year to year. This allowed most students to pass the test. I got 100% on some of the tests. The questions were so remarkably similar to previous years, that it was easy.  But, there are gaps in my education, because the Regents tests only covered some topics. American history is the most striking example: The history I learned was incomplete.

Here are some descriptions of the courses I took:

Biology AP – AP stands for “Advanced Placement.”  Passing the AP test gave you college credit.  I learned a lot about biology. It was a very interesting course, that was harder than some college courses I later took.  Excellent class!

Earth Studies – This was a regents level class and the state curriculum was really quite interesting.  I learned about the earth’s tilt, why there are seasons, etc. Awesome, way to go New York!

Computer Science – Nope.  The school didn’t offer any computer science courses.  In middle school, I had a science teacher who taught me a bit of BASIC programming, but that was something we did at lunch time, outside of class.  I also wrote HTML on my own time. In high school, I had a book on C++ and a compiler, but I got stuck and gave up. I didn’t know any software developers, and although I was definitely interested in programming, I didn’t get beyond being stuck. I also had a book on web scripting with Perl at one point. I didn’t figure it out. I think it may have just been a bad book, and I didn’t follow the advice that I follow these days: that when a book is bad, it’s time to buy a different one.

Electronics – This was the most disappointing class I took. It only lasted a quarter of the year.  There were only about 15 kids in the class, and I was the only female. (The average class size was 30 pupils.)  The teacher didn’t teach, and we didn’t learn anything. It sucked. This was the only high school teacher I had who didn’t teach.  In middle school, I had a science teacher who didn’t teach. Can you believe it, that there were teachers who didn’t teach? We just sat there in class talking, goofing off, doing other work, and it was a good environment for teasing.  It was very unpleasant. Occasionally, there was an assignment to work on.

American History – This was a Regents class and it was totally taught to the test.  It was a boring class and the teacher had us take notes from handwritten slides put on a projector.  We learned about some very specific supreme court cases, specific amendments, and learned that the constitution is a “living” document.  The civil rights movement was a big part of the curriculum.

Global Studies Honors – This was an awesome class.  The teacher loved history, and we learned a ton of stuff.  Her excitement made us excited, and I have a different perspective of the world because of her.  Yay!

English Honors and English Regents –  Here’s a list of some of the literature I remember reading for high school.  Shakespeare and John Steinbeck were popular!

Macbeth by Shakespeare  

Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare  

Greek Mythology

Ordinary People by Judith Guest

The Catcher in the Rye

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Math – I remember learning algebra and trigonometry.  There were a wide range of skills in my class, and so I usually was able to do my homework in class, while the teacher was helping other students.  It was ok, but I still don’t feel like I’m applying math to my life as much as I should be. I didn’t take calculus until college, but I think it may have been available.

Well, that’s all I’m remembering right now.  We did a quarter year of health class every year, and one year it included sex education.  We had art class, in which we did a variety of creative projects, including Linocut.  

There was gym all year, every other day. It was a great curriculum! We did a variety of sports, including field hockey outside in the springtime, on a big field.  It was fun being outside! We also played basketball, did archery, ran laps, played dodgeball, tennis, and lots more.

School started at 7am and ended at 1:50pm.  I got home by 2:30pm. The school year started after Labor Day at the beginning of September, and the year ended sometime in June.

I wish that there had been a computer science class, or at least an electronics class with a teacher who actually taught.  Oh well. Education doesn’t have to ever stop. I’ve got a lot more learning to do!

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