OPINION: Is the Three Year Modern Language Requirement for the THHS Diploma necessary?


Katherine Lian

The recently reinstated three-year Modern Language requirement for the Townsend Harris Honors Diploma may be doing more harm than good for students with interests outside of languages.

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As students at Townsend Harris make course selections for the following academic year, many take into consideration the unique requirements of the Townsend Harris Honors Diploma. Amongst other requirements like two years of a classical language (Ancient Greek or Latin), as well as four years of English courses, the recently reinstated three years of modern language requirement (French, Spanish, or Japanese, as offered at Townsend) is the most difficult to achieve. This requirement goes beyond the modern language requirement needed to obtain the Honors Regents Diploma, which is the highest diploma awarded by New York State. The modern language requirement for the Townsend Harris High School Honors Diploma is excessive, as students who are already interested in enrolling in modern language courses beyond the Regents requirements choose to do so solely based upon their own aspirations, while other students feel pressured to fill their electives with classes not catered to their interests. 

Students were notified in an email on March 21st, 2022, stating that due to a shortage in modern language staffing in previous years, Townsend Harris was unable to offer enough classes for all students to achieve higher level learning in modern language and as a result, removed the three year modern language requirement from the Townsend Harris Honors Diploma. However, following the hiring of new teachers for the upcoming school year, Townsend Harris suddenly obligated students to fulfill three years of modern language classes once again in order to attain the diploma, regardless of their previously taken courses in middle school. Due to the time at which the email was sent, the requirement affects the class of 2024 and all classes of the years that follow.

Many students feel as though this change is unfair and now must base their elective selections upon the reinstatement of the three year modern language requirement, if they wish to attain the Townsend Harris Honors Diploma. Subsequent to learning about the requirement, junior Hasan Raza “chose an AP language course [for one of his senior year electives] in hopes of getting a Townsend diploma since [he] didn’t want to be excluded from getting the diploma.” 

One of the suggestions made in amending the requirement was to combine the classical and modern language requirements by keeping the previous two-year classical language requirement, but allowing students to fulfill the three year modern language requirement by taking a third year of a classical language (such as AP Latin). Requiring students to attend three years of modern language limits them from selecting classes more fit to their passions, especially as they can only choose so many electives. 

Moreover, some students may believe that an Advanced Placement course is not best fit for them, so they have to resort to starting a new language in their third year of high school due to the requirements needed to achieve the Honors Diploma. For instance, junior Wren Walston said, “I am currently taking French 1…because I felt as though I would not succeed in an AP Spanish class and Spanish Conversation was full… I definitely would not have taken the class I am in now if the [diploma’s requirements] weren’t looming above my head.” Reinstating this requirement does not ensure that students are being pushed to their fullest potential, but instead negatively affects their high school experience by unnecessarily pressuring them to take certain classes that they may not be interested in. 

Meanwhile, many current juniors decided to challenge themselves with AP-level modern language courses due to the requirement. For instance, according to junior Ravneet Kaur, “[The requirement] should be three years including middle school because it creates pressure for students to take APs.” While the language requirement was successful in increasing the number of students enrolled in courses like AP Spanish Literature and Composition, numerous students only chose to take a higher level course due to this pressure, increasing the stress of their academic year, especially if they weren’t particularly strong in that subject area.

While the three-year modern language requirement negatively impacts certain students, for students who are intrigued in pursuing a modern language beyond the regents courses, the requirement has no impact on their course selections. For instance, senior Zaynah Shariff stated that she “wanted to take AP Spanish Literature and Composition [in her] junior year” despite the fact that the modern language requirement wasn’t in place for her year. Therefore, the requirement wouldn’t change the course selections of students who would have taken an additional modern language course due to their interests.

Students at Townsend Harris should be able to delve deeper into their passions without being pressured to take certain courses due to the three-year modern language requirement for the Townsend Harris Honors Diploma. While it is important to give students the opportunity to take higher level modern language courses, making this a requirement (particularly for those who complete their regents requirements prior to completing three years at Townsend Harris) restricts the choices made by students that determine their academic year.