Teachers Ian Silverman and Michael Schmitz lead their American Studies class. The co-taught and double-period class makes American Studies a unique opportunity and one that is "too bad to take away" from students, Silverman said.

Photo by Carolyn Wagner

Class cancellations: concerns and frustrations from students and staff

December 20, 2018

World Cultures and American Studies have been cancelled. Teachers attended a November meeting in which they were informed the classes would not be offered to students next year. Or any year after that.

“I, like all of us, was surprised and shocked and frustrated that this big of a decision was made without any input from us and that it had apparently been a long term conversation that we hadn’t been even told about,” Ian Silverman, Honors American Studies teacher, said. “And that was frustrating.”

Silverman has taught Honors American Studies for 20 years, and while he is familiar with the administration’s right to decision making, he said, Silverman finds error in how the cancellations were communicated.

“We believe as a district in communication and collaboration,” Silverman said. “We feel that if we’re really living our district’s mission and values, then when [cancellations] first became a possible consideration, there is no reason why the teachers and maybe even students should not have been brought in as part of the conversation.”

As of yet there has been no formal announcement made to students regarding the two classes, meaning the cancellations are generally unknown, but Silverman says students are the ones affected most by the change.

“We all will go on to teach other classes, but now students have a reduced choice in what to take and they’re losing out on some really great learning opportunities,” Silverman said. “So it’s the students that will be hurt by this.”
And these are no ordinary classes when it comes to learning opportunities, say students. Infact, “unique is a perfect word to describe them,” according to Eleni Papastratakos, 2018 graduate.

Papastratakos took both World Cultures and Honors American Studies during her high school career. Part of what made the classes stand out was their structure, she said. Both are double-period classes that connect the commonly separate subjects of English and History.

“[World Cultures and American Studies] really showed us the connections that there were between the history and the English classes, whereas on our own, especially at that young of an age, it’s harder for students to be able to make the connection between the two subjects, or really any subjects,” Papastratakos said.

The classes’ structure and relationship provided Papastratakos with a tool she uses to this day, she says.

“Even throughout the rest of high school and now that I’m in college, I try to figure out how my different classes interact with one another,” Papastratakos said. She says before taking the classes, she was in the mindset of “I’m just taking a history class, I’m just taking an English class,” and that with such thoughts “you’re not really going to get the full extent of your education.”

With collaborative projects and more time in the same classroom, peer relationships were another legacy the classes left in students like Papastratakos. She says that “creating bonds with my peers and with the different skills that [the classes] taught me,” are ones she’s been able to “carry on throughout college and probably the rest of my life.”

Papastratakos was “shocked” and curious about the change, she said, however, not much is known yet about the reasons behind cancelling World Cultures and American Studies.

I feel like people should be able to change this, like it’s wrong to get rid of the classes. ”

— Marek Enters, senior

Marek Enters, senior, took both World Cultures and American Studies. Enters got the news about one class from a teacher, and the other from a friend. His initial reaction was feeling “mad,” particularly about finding out his “favorite classes in high school” would no longer be offered from a friend, he said.

“I don’t know the reason for [the cancellations], and I heard a couple theories, but none of them really made sense to me, so I was kind of disappointed,” Enters said. “I feel like [we] should’ve [been] given a reason.”

Silverman says he was offered some explanation, though only so much of it was understandable, he said. Some issues brought up were scheduling and a dip in enrollment; the latter Silverman says could be a result of the school’s AP classes.

“We didn’t [used to] have as many AP sections at the levels we do now. We have more kids taking AP and that’s taken some of the numbers,” Silverman said. “I don’t know that [World Cultures and American Studies] have been as broadly advertised either. It didn’t even appear on the course selection sheet last year or the year before. Part of it is being that the school has de-emphasized the class. We used to be able to go into classes and ‘sell it,’ but we don’t do that anymore. We haven’t done that in a long time.”

The administration has declined an interview until new course material has been developed in replacement of the classes. In the meantime, Enters is concerned about how the cancellations will play out, he said.

“I feel like people should be able to change this, like it’s wrong to get rid of the classes,” Enters said. “I think those double-period classes are special because you can connect the two, and if it’s not one of those then I don’t think [a replacement] can live up to them.”

Silverman’s concern is mainly focused the impact the change will have on students.

“I think it’s unfair to students to narrow the scope of their choice in terms of what they want to study and how they want to study,” Silverman said. “World Cultures and American Studies offer different models than any class taken now. And kids clearly wanted to take those.”

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