An Agenda Adjustment


Illustration Credit: Sydney Fener

Claire Conner, Assistant Opinion Editor

Our school has always been an impetus for change. From former Governor Gray Davis ’60 to Sally Ride ’68, our alumni have guided major policies and shattered cosmic glass ceilings; from thousands of outreach hours to service on numerous political campaigns, our students have generated remarkable progress at the local and national level; and from International Relations to Unconventional Leadership, our rich curriculum has inspired generations of analysts and innovators.

The school’s classes are at the center of our forward-thinking environment. Thought-provoking essay topics, challenging physics tests and creative elective projects push students to the limits of their imaginations and abilities, giving them the necessary skills to help solve the world’s biggest problems. Our classroom pursuits are the engines that drive us forward, turning our intellectual fuel into rapid, powerful movement.

However, no engine can run efficiently without repairs. To make the most of the school’s plentiful course offerings, students must have flexible schedules that accommodate their changing interests, time commitments and abilities. Otherwise, their course schedule—one of the most significant and demanding parts of their academic life—can hinder development rather than encourage it.

If a student realizes that a full-year elective no longer complements their interests, they should have the option to stop taking it at the end of the first semester and add another semester elective to take for the rest of the year. Instead of one full-year grade appearing on their academic transcript, they would receive two semester credits: one for the first semester of their original elective and another for the second-semester elective they added.

Sometimes, difficult or unpleasant courses are a requisite for growth and the development of grit. The wide scope of our school’s core curriculum ensures that students will learn to cope with unwanted challenges and begin to appreciate many subjects that are outside of their comfort zones.

Electives do not need to present the same challenges as core classes. They are spaces in which students can explore their passions by taking the hard-earned life and study skills from the core curriculum and applying them to the fields of study they find most exciting and intriguing. So why are students taking full-year electives subjected to the same schedule rigidity in these classes as they are in the core curriculum?

Our school gives students an abundance of opportunities to discover new interests outside of the classroom. They might attend a few meetings at a new academic club or learn about a fascinating topic connected to one of their favorite courses; or they could have an inspiring conversation with a peer or pick up an influential book from the library. No matter how students discover a new interest, they should have the option to pursue it in the classroom to see if it is something they would like to continue studying in their future academic life. 

Students can lose interest in a subject just as easily as they can stumble upon a new interest or passion. Maybe, after a few tests and projects, they realize that an elective is not as enjoyable as they had hoped it would be. It might require a certain type of writing, thinking or application that they find tedious. It may take too much time away from other classes.

Upon finding themselves in either or both of these situations, a student should be able to leave a class for one that is a better fit. The benefits of this opportunity are far greater than allowing students to pursue their passions and maintain a balanced schedule throughout high school; the increased flexibility and importance of decisions in college and adult life demand that young adults be able to make prudent choices and respond to challenges proactively. It can take a while for a student to realize that part of their schedule is not enjoyable, so giving them the agency to shape their schedule around their changing needs would prepare them to do the same as adults.

This suggested change of scheduling rules does not lack exceptions: a major shift in course demand in the middle of the year would create problems related to class capacities and available teachers. Students may not be able to switch into their first choice of elective or even their second, but keeping the door open to these possibilities has the potential to significantly improve the comfort levels of many students.

A mass exodus of students from their full-year electives is also unlikely. For the most part, they will either be happy with the decisions they made or choose to switch classes before the drop and add deadlines. If not, it is quite likely that their struggles in a class are more grade-related than interest-related, and in that case, it would often be most logical to stay in the class for the duration of the year to avoid having a bad grade on their transcript. Grade-motivated changes are also improbable due to the low coursework requirement and project-based content of most electives.

Accordingly, the group of students who would benefit from this new opportunity is relatively small. It would only consist of students who encounter a new passion within a specific time frame or are struggling so much in an elective that they cannot see themselves improving or enjoying it.

This group’s small size should not stop us from making electives more flexible. One class can alter the balance of a student’s schedule, and a small group of students moving to new courses can change the dynamic of several classrooms. Classroom capacity might limit the number of students who choose to move classes and their range of options, but by making the changes, we will still be improving student life.

It is impossible to predict whether one of our classmates will become a governor or a pioneer in space travel. But if, as a student body, we want to add to a legacy of excellence and progress, we must first ensure that our academic policies reflect our commitment to promoting exploration, educational enjoyment and the development of life skills.