40 ways school has changed since you were a student

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Your memories of grade school are probably not much like the experience of a 21st-century student. Instead of passing notes while teachers had their backs turned and hauling around backpacks filled with textbooks, students of today are texting under their desks and reading books online. Gone are the days of slide rules and dusty chalkboards filled with math equations.

Modern-day schools have seen some significant changes. Technology has transformed the interior of school classrooms. Additionally, society has undergone some changes in the ways we deal with health conditions, learning differences and individuals' identities. School officials seem to be taking on new initiatives to focus on student health, inclusion and safety. With the advancement of technology has come the disappearance of certain customs you probably thought were synonymous with school. Here are some ways schools have changed since you were a student.


Home economics is not nearly as common

It is much less likely that today's students will learn about topics like cooking, budgeting and household management in school. Home economics, which is now commonly known as consumer sciences, is lacking in both teachers and student enrollment. According to research by the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, although the program is offered in every state, a 2012 study saw that enrollment declined by 38 percent over the course of 10 years and 50 percent of the states were having trouble finding adequate numbers of teachers. If you want your kids to know how to budget or cook an egg, don't expect them to learn those skills in school.


Students don't pass notes anymore

You may remember sliding a folded piece of notebook paper under your crush's desk (which probably said something like, "If you like me, meet me at my locker after class") when your teaching wasn't looking. If you were caught in the act, you may have faced the humiliation of your teacher reading the note to the whole class. Now that students can text, there is no need to pass notes. The teacher may confiscate your phone if they catch you texting, but that is probably less embarrassing than the public note shaming.


Students don't really play dodgeball in gym class

When you were in school, you probably either cringed at the thought of playing dodgeball or took the game a little too seriously. Dodgeball could get pretty intense.Today, dodgeball and other elimination games are becoming less common in the physical education curriculum. Many believe that these games encourage hostile targeting and bullying by putting students with disabilities and those who are less physically fit at a disadvantage.


Students don't know what a slide rule is

Slide rules, invented in the 17th century, look like rulers with sliding strips and can be used to make calculations. They were used in math classes through the early 20th century, and depending on how old you are, you might have used one in school. The last slide rule was manufactured in 1976, and a new one hasn't been sold since. These tools were eventually replaced by pocket calculators, and now that graphing calculators and other advanced tools are so commonly used in math classes, the majority of students probably have no idea what a slide rule is, let alone how to use one.


School lunches are healthier

Students are no longer sipping on their favorite sodas and snacking on only burgers and pizza in the school cafeteria. According to the School Nutrition Association, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has required cafeterias to limit sodium, calories and unhealthy fat, as well as add more fruit, vegetables and whole grains to their lunches. While old lunch menus might have had fried chicken and french fries, today's students are being served things like a turkey burger and a side salad, for example.


Lockers aren't as necessary

When you were in school, you were probably late to class at least once because you forgot your locker combination. And on your friends' birthdays, you would wake up early and cover the inside and doors of their lockers with posters and confetti. Opening your own locker on your special day was one of the best parts of getting older. In modern-day schools, students don't have much of a use for lockers, since so many learning materials are now online. For the most part, lockers are left unused, or at least visited much less often.


Schools accommodate learning differences

If you were learning to read 20 years ago and struggling with ADHD or dyslexia, you were largely on your own. You may have been stereotyped as less capable than your peers and were probably not given the type of instruction that you needed. Today, there are more efforts to normalize these conditions and remove the stigma. Teachers are more accommodating and are taught to adapt lessons to students with different learning needs. In 2015, the No Child Left Behind Act was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act. This policy gives states more autonomy in creating individualized education policies that focus on the unique needs of each student opposed to standardized test scores.


Cursive is not enforced

You probably never realized how grateful you were for cursive class until you had to forge your parent's signature on a field trip permission slip. The Common Core State Standards Initiative does not mention cursive in its English and Language Arts section, so it is up to state governments to decide if the subject is mandatory. As technology continues to develop and students are required to handwrite fewer assignments, teaching cursive has become an afterthought. Surprisingly, some states, like Louisiana, have recently established cursive mandates. 


There are digital books

You may remember signing out textbooks on the first day of school and buying a book cover to avoid costly damages at the end of the year. Although some teachers still require physical books, according to a study by the education nonprofit Educause, the use of electronic textbooks is on the rise, particularly among younger students. These online tools have features that are attractive to some students and teachers, like embedded quizzes and videos.


Class discussions are held online

Instead of hoping that the teacher will call on you during a class discussion or avoiding eye contact because you didn't do your reading, students may be asked to discuss Alexander Hamilton's debt plan or the themes of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in an online forum. Teachers often require that students answer a prompt, as well as reply to their classmates' answers, for full participation credit. Although class discussions still exist, these tools have replaced some face-to-face participation.


There are no more AV carts or projectors

You knew it would be a good day in school when your teacher started rolling in the AV cart -  this meant you were taking a break from monotonous classroom lectures and watching a movie. Today, if teachers want to show a movie or video clip, they can simply stream it onto an interactive whiteboard.


Peanut allergies restrict food

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may have been a staple in your school cafeteria, but many of today's schools have strict policies to protect students who suffer from food allergies. As a result, peanut butter and other allergens are not allowed to be served. Each state has its own school guidelines, which were established after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the first national comprehensive guidelines for school food allergy management in 2013.


Teachers don't really use chalkboards

Chalkboards and dry erase boards are now being replaced with interactive whiteboards. Just when you thought the classroom could not become any more modernized, school districts are upgrading their technology and investing in Promethean boards, which allow teachers to display computer screens in their classrooms and write notes directly onto the screen. Some boards offer electronic markers that can interact with the computer screen, enabling teachers and students to click on things and play interactive games. While some districts have been quick to embrace this technology, it is costly and can be a difficult transition for old-school teachers. 


There is usually Wi-Fi

According to a study by Education Superhighway, a nonprofit that connects schools with high-speed internet, 98 percent of public schools have access to high-speed Wi-Fi. Although the administration may block certain websites and social media networks, students can often connect to the wireless network on their smartphones, allowing them to text and search the web even if they don't have phone service.


Gender-neutral bathrooms are more common

As schools begin to adapt to changing cultural attitudes and fluid representations of gender, gender neutral bathrooms are appearing in districts across the country. Many schools have implemented this change in hopes that transgender or nonbinary students will feel safer and more comfortable.


Water fountains are modern

In an effort to reduce plastic waste, schools across the country have installed high-tech water stations designed to refill reusable bottles. They come with sensors that count the total number of disposable plastic bottles that have been saved. Traditional drinking fountains may still exist for students who just want a quick drink, but these water stations are being adapted by districts in an effort to go green.


Libraries aren't primarily used for books

You may remember using the Dewey Decimal System to find a book in your school library, only to find that other students had checked out all of the copies. But libraries serve a much more varied purpose nowadays. Instead of just checking out books, more students are bringing their laptops to the library and using the space to write essays, research topics and work on group assignments. Some schools are even moving their book collections off campus to open up more space for students.


Abstinence education is not as common

If you were in high school before the 1980s, you may not recall receiving any type of sex education at all. According to Future of Sex Education, it wasn't until 1981 that the Adolescent Family Life Act was passed in response to the AIDS epidemic and the country's increasing rates of teen pregnancy. Funding and government approval led to more abstinence education, but a 2009 bill eliminated most of the funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Due to changing culture and these government programs, abstinence-only education became less common and was replaced with other approaches to sex ed, including information about contraception and STIs. Although it is not as common, some states still only require that public schools teach abstinence and don't have any policy on teaching contraception.


Personal laptops are replacing computer labs

If you grew up with computers, you may remember taking trips to the school computer lab and learning how to type and use software in a room full of desktops. Although some schools still have a use for these spaces, more students are receiving personal laptops that they can carry from class to class. Instead of computer skills being a separate lesson, technology instruction is now being integrated into every subject. For example, a school in Jamaica, New York, decided to purchase more Chromebooks and turn its computer labs into classrooms. 


The college process is more competitive

Today, more students are deciding to apply to college, and online applications have made it easier for them to apply to more schools. Between 1960 and 2001, college enrollment more than tripled from 4.1 million to 14.8 million, according to Trinity College research, and this number is still on the rise. The process has become incredibly streamlined, as the majority of colleges use The Common Application, making it easier for students to send in more applications than they used to - and with more applicants comes more competition. Parents who can afford it are now hiring professionals to help their students master standardized tests and write essays that will set them apart from other applicants.


There is much less tolerance for bullying

The turn of the 21st century brought much less tolerance for bullying in schools, especially after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Initiatives like Rachel's Challenge were established to educate students on bullying and administrators began to develop stricter policies. Today's anti-bullying laws were shaped by the 2000 case J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School, which established that school officials can take action against students who pose threats or emotionally abuse faculty and other students. Though bullying definitely still exists, it's not nearly as tolerated as it was in previous generations.


Schools have to worry about cyberbullying

Although technology has done wonders for schools, it does have its drawbacks. Technology has introduced the opportunity for bullies to hide behind computer screens and torment their peers online and outside of school. Now, when schools crack down on bullying, they have to worry about what happens on and off school grounds. Applications like YikYak and Ask.fm, which allow users to create anonymous posts, have faced backlash for enabling cyberbullying.


AP classes are more accessible

Today's high school students have the option of taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are more rigorous classes that can often count towards college credit. Although this program has existed since 1955, according to The College Board, the number of schools that offer these courses has grown from 104 to nearly 19,000 in 2013. The College Board offers a wide variety of college-level subjects, including AP Macroeconomics, AP Drawing and AP Japanese.


Students are prepped for the threat of an active shooter

Growing up, you may have felt safest sitting in a classroom at school, but for today's generation of students, this is not the case. School shootings have become increasingly common. Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Parkland were just a few of the deadly shootings that have occurred on American campuses in the past 12 years. A recent Pew Research Center study has revealed that 57 percent of teens are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening in their school. Schools prepare for these emergencies by holding frequent lockdown drills, which consists of locking classroom doors and having students gather away from the windows. In the 2017-2018 school year, 4.1 million students participated in a lockdown drill.


Animal dissection is more controversial than ever before

Dissecting a frog or cat in your high school biology class may have been your least favorite (or if you love guts and gore, your favorite) part of the school year. Back in the day, dissection was just seen as a necessary part of the science curriculum, but recently, organizations like PETA have led efforts to stop this practice. This year, a California bill was introduced to ban animal dissection in schools.


Gym class is not as competitive

The modern gym curriculum looks nothing like it did 20 years ago. Now, gym class features trendy exercises like yoga and spinning, as well as team-building units. According to The American College of Sports Medicine, those who had negative experiences in gym class are more likely to avoid physical activity for the rest of their lives. Today, participation and inclusion seems to be more important to educators than competition.


Smoking is replaced with Juuling

Your high school may have had designated sections of the cafeteria or courtyard where students and staff could go to smoke a cigarette. These accommodations don't exist in modern-day schools, but one thing has not changed - kids are still addicted to nicotine. Today, schools are cracking down on e-cigarettes like Juuls, which are small, odorless devices that resemble flash drives and can easily be hidden from administrators. 


There are online exams

The Scantron, which is used to quickly grade multiple-choice exams, was once seen as revolutionary, but today these are increasingly being replaced with online tests. Online tests, which can include both multiple-choice questions and open-ended prompts, are used by many teachers so that students can take their exams without using up class time. Online tests are used for both class and standardized tests.


More parents hire private tutors

In a more competitive high school environment, it makes sense that parents who have the money choose to hire private tutors to boost their kids' performance. Although many teachers offer extra help outside of class, students are more inclined to hire a professional and enroll in one-on-one tutoring sessions. Zion Market Research predicted that the Global Private Tutoring Market will reach more than $177 million by 2026.

It's easier to get caught plagiarizing

Plagiarism has always been taken seriously in schools, but modern technology has made it a lot easier to catch students in the act. Many teachers require that their students submit written assignments through Turnitin, which uses an "originality check" to identify what, if any, percentage of a paper is someone else's words.

Students are randomly drug-tested

Today, if students want to play football or join student government, they may first have to prove that they're drug-free. In 2002, the Supreme Court increased authority for schools to randomly drug-test students who participate in extracurricular activities. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the purpose of random drug-testing in schools is not necessarily to punish users, but to prevent future drug use, provide resources for students who use or abuse drugs and create a drug-free school environment.


Breathalyzers are used at school events

If you were in high school before 1984, when the drinking age was raised to 21, you may have been able to drink legally during your senior year. And if you weren't of age, you could likely down a few shots before your homecoming dance, grab some minty gum and get away with it. Today, districts across the country are using breathalyzer tests on students at school sports games and dances.


Backpacks might be banned

You may think that carrying around a backpack is synonymous with being a student, but in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, many schools have banned backpacks or are imposing regulations on which bags are allowed. Some schools, for example, are insisting that students carry transparent bags. In districts where backpacks are regulated, officials are suggesting that students bring "small bags" and a lunchbox and are giving them more time in between classes to make trips to their lockers.


Students are overscheduled

You may have fond memories of heading downtown with your friends to spend the dollar in your pocket on whatever food a dollar could buy, but nowadays, students seem to lack this free time. High school students especially are more overscheduled than ever. A typical student may have swim practice in the morning, student government meetings after school and hours of homework to complete at night. Student stress has had a significant effect on their mental health - nearly 41.6 percent of students list anxiety as their No. 1 concern.



Schools have introduced sexual assault education

The topic of consent is more common in health classrooms and school assemblies than ever before. In a culture with heightened sexual assault awarenress and popular initiatives like the #MeToo Movement , there has been a push for new curriculum and many organizations such as the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance are focused on creating initiatives to teach students about consent. In today's schools, sex and assault are no longer taboo topics.


Students don't have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance

The 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette granted students the right to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance, but administrators have not always been aware of this. Recently, athletes like Colin Kaepernick have heightened society's awareness of this right and drawn attention to reasons some students may not want to stand for the pledge. In short, if today's public school teachers want to force their students to stand for the pledge, they should expect a lawsuit. 


Schools are ditching homecoming traditions

You may remember casting your votes for homecoming king and queen when you were in high school, but in today's society, looser gender roles and expectations have paved the way for non-traditional homecoming courts - and some schools elect ot hold no homecoming at all. Schools that are maintaining this tradition seem to be giving it a modern twist by straying from the notion that there must be a king and queen.


Catholic schools aren't run by nuns

Whether you went to Catholic school or have just seem them in books and movies, you probably picture plaid skirts and ties, blazers and nuns as teachers. According to the National Catholic Association, Catholic school was once 90 percent run by nuns, but in today's schools, nuns only make up 3 percent of the staff. 


Schools are cracking down on security

When you were in school, you may have been able to come and go freely from campus during open lunch or bring your parent in for career day without being questioned. But with today's security concerns, this is often no longer the case. In many schools, guests often need to sign in and obtain a visitor pass from the main office, and students are taught not to open the door for anyone they don't recognize. Some schools even have metal detectors that students, staff and visitors must walk through before entering the buildings.


Students aren't allowed to share lunch

"If you give me your fruit Gushers, you can have my pizza Goldfish." When you were a kid, what you ended up eating in the cafeteria might have been totally different from what you or your parents packed in your lunchbox that morning. Today, sharing food with other students can come with severe consequences like detention. If you want to be sure that your child will eat what you pack them, you should consider kids' favorite and least favorite school lunches. 

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