Chemistry elective too expensive, Peters students told

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Peters Township High School won't get an organic chemistry class anytime soon, despite pleas to the school board from a group of students.

This week the board heard from a group of science students, who said they will be at "a serious disadvantage" among their peers in college, most of whom will have already taken the class.

"This class is not just a want, it's a need," said student Carla Hoge, who said offering an organic chemistry class would help level the playing field for Peters' graduates.

Chase Maszle said a group of 130 students signed a petition expressing interest in taking the class, which could join other science electives that are currently offered, such as Advanced Placement chemistry, Honors chemistry, and molecular gastronomy.

Other local districts, including Canon McMillan, Bethel Park, North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon, and McKeesport, offer the class, he said.

Organic chemistry is a major component for most science degrees, Chase said, and the lack of a class has proved to be "crippling" to Peters' graduates, because students who test high enough on Advanced Placement exams are able to skip some college-level science classes only to be faced with the unfamiliar organic chemistry.

Superintendent Nina Zetty said the district has explored offering the class during the past year, but said the staffing and curriculum costs -- which could top $100,000 -- are too high for the district to bear right now.

The district is considering a 3-mill property tax increase, hoping to shave a projected $1.7 million deficit. Board members voted Tuesday to increase retirement incentives for teachers, making them eligible for retirement with fewer years of service and lower age limits.

"As of now, organic chemistry is not on the schedule for next year," said Ms. Zetty, who said the school's four chemistry teachers are already fully booked.

The student group also attended a meeting of the district's education committee earlier this month, and said they were disappointed that the board took no action.

They questioned whether some classes, such as molecular gastronomy [the science of cooking] -- which draws fewer than 10 students per semester -- could be offered half a year, with organic chemistry offered during the other half.

The organic chemistry class would be of interest to far more students, they said.

"These aren't just five or six students," said Ryan Duane. "There are 130 students who really would benefit from this class."

Ms. Zetty said the district is considering several other options, such as transporting students to other schools for the class, or offering it through dual-enrollment with local colleges.

"We are already looking into alternatives," Ms. Zetty said.

Chase and Carla said the student group would continue to pursue its goal without being discouraged. Both are student council officers who agreed to speak publicly about the issue on behalf of their classmates. They said high school teachers and administrators are supporting their request.


Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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