By Sophie Wang
Cake decorating, jewelry making, and astrophysics are just three of 14 classes now offered Wednesday mornings at the Middle School (MS), thanks to the Elective Program implemented this fall.
As of September, the one-hour slot from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.—previously filled with academic classes—now gives students an opportunity to explore new interests in a relaxed, non-academic setting. With the input of faculty, Middle School Director Mary Dolbear developed the program in hopes of allowing seventh- and eighth-graders to hone extracurricular interests and connect more with each other across grades.
“The Middle School already has a strong academic core program, but I have always wanted to explore around the edges,” she said. “What better way than electives for faculty to share with students an interest, hobby, or hidden talent?”
The elective options change each trimester, Ms. Dolbear said, with each elective meeting every other week for five sessions in total. While participation is optional, students who commit to an elective have to remain in it for the trimester. Students who choose to opt out of the Elective Program can use the time to meet with teachers or do homework.
Science Teacher Michael Ewins, who teaches photography and astrophysics electives, said the variety of course offerings is likely to increase as teachers observe which topics are particularly successful.
“Many teachers thought about more traditional elective programs and not about offerings that a lot of kids would love,” Mr. Ewins said. “Scrabble is a perfect example of this. It’s a fun game that helps improve vocabulary, makes the mind work in a different way to standard classroom work, but it’s not something you would have expected when thinking of electives.”
Haley Kohler ’18, who has taken Jewelry Making and Singing Knights, said the Elective Program has already broadened her interests.
“I love participating, and I have a lot of fun,” she said. “My favorite part of the electives is that it allows you to meet new people and start new things that you wouldn’t normally try on your own.”
Ethan Voligny ’19 said the program lets students manage their time and decide their own schedules, important skills he hopes to hone before he graduates from middle school.
“It’s really cool because you can take an extra class or have study hall,” he said. “It is free time. It’s a lot of fun, and we learn while we have fun.”
Parents have also responded positively to the new program. MS Parents’ Association Vice President Annette Nowiszewski P’12, ’16, ’18 called the Elective Program a welcome addition to the curriculum.
“This practice with a free block prior to arriving at the Upper School will certainly equip students with the confidence and experience to utilize free blocks at the Upper School to their advantage right from the start,” Ms. Nowiszewski said.
Mr. Ewins praised the program for allowing students and faculty alike to “share interests with those you might not otherwise spend time with.”
“People are making more connections at the Middle School than before,” he said. “Seventh- and eighth-graders are learning together in the same classroom [after having] self-identified a shared interest. You don’t see that in a traditional core academic subject school system.”
Ms. Dolbear reported that at the conclusion of this year, the Middle School will review the program and make necessary changes to assure its continued success.