Newton County School System officials are working to find a way to offer its pioneering epidemiology course, now offered at Newton High School, to more students in the school system. But there are still some kinks that need to be ironed out before that can happen.
Newton County Board of Education member Eddie Johnson asked at the April 16 meeting what progress had been made in expanding the course.
That led to a discussion of what needs to be done to facilitate such an expansion.
Epidemiology, the study of the causes, distribution and control of diseases in populations, teaches students how a disease can affect a community, such as the student population at NHS.
The course also looks at how anything can affect a population, such as teen pregnancy, car accidents and even homicides.
In 2011, Newton High partnered with the Centers for Disease Control to launch the first and only high school-level epidemiology course in the nation. Taught by NHS teacher Evern Williams, who wrote the curriculum for EXCITE! (Excellence in Curriculum Innovation through Teaching Epidemiology) for the CDC, the course is a federal teaching model.
Samantha Fuhrey, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for NCSS, told the board that expanding the class is a work in progress.
“Epidemiology, as you know, is one of the courses that is unique to this school system. We have worked with Mr. Williams to first of all clarify some things,” Fuhrey said. “Epidemiology can’t replace graduation requirements as an elective.
“We are trying to move the epidemiology class to the Newton County College and Career Academy, so that more students in line with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program could have access to such a great opportunity. [However], it doesn’t seem at this time that that’s what [Williams] wishes to do. What he would like to do is expand the opportunity by training other teachers at our other high schools,” Fuhrey said.
“The only problem that we have with that is because of the change in the schedule and the reduction of our 42 teachers, there are only a certain number of segments that are available for kids to participate in courses.
“So, while we’re trying to expand the opportunity to all kids across the system, you’re looking at possibly impacting availability of required classes, so it makes more sense to offer a class like that in a central location.”
Johnson said he’s heard of lectures being given at colleges about epidemiology and has also heard of other schools looking at Newton High School as an example.
Since the course was pioneered in Newton, he said he doesn’t want the system to get overlooked for breaking ground on the course.
“We’re not being aggressive enough,” Johnson said. “I think we ought to use Mr. Williams more and put him [in] charge. I understand that there may be some conflicts, but what I see is we’re not doing enough. What I hear is that this course is going to be the 21st century-type thing in the new curriculum.
“I think this program should get the bright light shining, to let this system know that we do appreciate innovation and we want to encourage people to come up with those ideas,” Johnson said.
Fuhrey said she understood where Johnson was coming from, but that there are still a lot of things to be sorted out regarding graduation requirements and the availability of teachers to offer the course.
“Those changes are not in my hands; they are in the hands of the state department,” Fuhrey said.
NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews said, “What has to happen, really, is the state needs to determine that epidemiology is at least an option in the required core; otherwise it will always be an elective.”
“We’re taking time to make sure that whatever we do and however we place it is sustainable and that we can continue to enhance it and grow the course, of course with the support of Mr. Williams,” Fuhrey said.
“From what I understand about the course at Newton High School, it’s packed out and there are lots of kids taking advantage of it. So we definitely want more children to have that opportunity.”