Public Speaking will no longer be a graduation requirement for incoming students following a recent administrative decision.
by Sammy Bonasso, ’20
Starting with the incoming freshman class of 2023, high school students will no longer be required to take Public Speaking in order to graduate.“Public Speaking will still be offered as a course, and public speaking is a requirement and will remain a requirement for our current freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors,” said Amanda Fountain, a Public Speaking teacher at UAHS.
Although not a requirement for incoming students, Fountain said Public Speaking teachers still strongly recommend students take the course. Fountain said she feels disappointed and even blindsided by the administration’s decision, but she thinks no ill will was involved and that the administration wants what is best for students.
“I felt like there were some missed opportunities for honest communication and deliberation about the course,” Fountain said. “And I always see irony in things like that, when we’re talking about a communications course, that maybe clear communication or effective communication did not transpire throughout the process.”
Public Speaking teachers did not have a part in the decision, according to Public Speaking teacher Greg Varner.
“[Superintendent Paul] Imhoff indicated that the decision to remove the graduation requirement was an administrative option,” Varner said. “He indicated that the two members of the school board committee felt strongly that the graduation requirement should be removed, suggesting that the course content could be embedded in other courses and indicating that other schools don’t have this requirement.”
Varner, among other Public Speaking teachers, said he finds the course beneficial. He said he recognized many students’ fear of it, but he said it was a distinguishing mark of UA schools and that communication skills were becoming increasingly important in the modern workplace.
“Historically, the public speaking course has provided lower-stakes opportunities to lay foundations for increasingly challenging speeches,” Varner said.
Fountain said students themselves have seen the value of Public Speaking once they have graduated.
“I know a lot of students have come back, contacted me through email and said, ‘Hey, Public Speaking was a really valuable course when I had it at the high school. At the time I didn’t realize it, but when I got to college I realized that I had some skills that enabled me [to be successful],’” Fountain said.
Public Speaking teacher Bruce Campbell said he saw students’ self-confidence grow after taking the course. He said he would prefer keeping Public Speaking as a course over placing Public Speaking elements in required courses.
“Just requiring the activity of talking in front of us isn’t actually teaching them anything,” Campbell said. “The other disciplines have so much to cover already content-wise. They don’t have space in their curriculum to also teach public speaking skills in a way that they need to be taught.”
Principal Andrew Theado, however, did not mention an integration of public speaking elements into all other courses.
“We’re actually prototyping a public speaking course right now through our R&D [Research and Development] called ‘UA Idea Seminar,’” Theado said. “We had some of our teachers from the language arts department work on infusing some of those things from the public speaking course into a Capstone course.”
Theado said he hopes for these skills to flourish throughout the student body.
“We keep some of those skills alive in our required courses [like the Capstone course]. They’re still really important skills and content that are beneficial for kids,” Theado said.