Teachers introduce new elective classes

Third Place, News Writing

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Students can now develop their own news, think critically about movies, and be a part of a district-wide competition with the new elective classes offered this year at Richmond High.

The extra period added to the revised schedule gave teachers the liberty to start courses with unique academic approaches, offering more variety for students. Some of these courses include Race & Film Studies, Broadcast Journalism, Journalism I, Women Studies and Court Studies.

The Race & Film Studies class focuses on taking an analytical approach toward movies. This involves looking at the impact and message of the movie and how it intertwines race, class, gender and sexual orientation along with reading and writing to build context and understanding.

“Considering the significant role that movies play in our lives and how much time we spend watching movies, I thought it would be cool to engage with students in conversations around what messages movie send,” said Luis Chacon, teacher of the Race & Film Studies class.

“Last week we were analyzing ‘Freedom Writers’ and I thought that was pretty interesting getting into depth,” said Gerardo Cervantes, a senior in the Media & Communications Academy.

Cervantes said his teacher showed them the movie to demonstrate how problematic it was. The film showed that students of color deal with struggles and obstacles that only their teacher, a white woman, can help them with. Instead of acquiring their own values, their teacher places her own values onto them. This is often known as “the white savior complex.”

Another set of classes created to help students engage critically with media are Journalism I and Broadcast Journalism.

The introductory class is for students who want to learn the basics of journalism, such as how to write news reports and the different types of news. Broadcast Journalism focuses on producing a weekly video announcement to relay news about RHS and the community to students.

“I begged for these classes,” Maya Kosover, journalism advisor, said, “Many high schools have student publications where students get to write about what they want and get to share their voices about what’s important to them. I wanted Richmond High students to have the same opportunity,” she said.

Another addition to electives is Women Studies. The focus is to look at current women’s issues and how they compare or contrast with women’s issues throughout history through an intersectional perspective.

“I really think our campus needs a place for female students to discuss and learn about the world around them. We need a space that’s primarily focused on women of color,” Madison Schmalz, Women Studies teacher, said.

“It’s nice to have a space where women are actually, you know, knowing about themselves,” said Alexa Arguello, senior in the Law Academy.

A class starting this year that was previously an after school club is Court Studies, taught by Law Academy Teachers Ellen Rosenbluth and Allen Mooney.

After years of being coaches and sponsors for the after school mock trial club, the revised schedule allowed them to pursue it in a classroom setting. The class teaches students how to compete for a Mock Trial and is open to all students.

The class builds up students’ public speaking skills and requires teamwork, with students participating in different roles typically found in a courtroom. This is refined for months to prepare for a district wide competition in February.

“Nobody has this class in the district,” Mooney, Law Academy Teacher, said. “It’s such a beneficial program for students that it really ought to be part of every curriculum.”

“I’ve seen mock trial over the years take people from being super shy to super poise to being able to do anything in the world, not just the law. And that was just so important that I wanted it as a class and not just an after school club,” Ms. Rosenbluth, Law Academy Teacher, said.

Although many teachers are thrilled about teaching their new elective courses, some scheduling conflicts didn’t allow everything to go as planned.

A Law Academy senior, Jennifer Diaz Lopez, said she felt many students were placed into electives that they weren’t interested in taking. She said students wanted to prioritize mandatory classes before adding new ones.

Additionally, both the Financial Literacy and Creative Writing class struggled to find teachers to lead the class within the first month of school.

Kosover said that despite some of the rocky starts for some electives, overall, the electives are taking the school in a positive direction.

“Any time a school tries something new there’s going to be mistakes,” Kosover said. “But our electives are allowing students to do such unique things they’ve never had access to before. They are thinking critically, they are using their voices, and they are creating art and media that is meaningful and honorable to who they are.”

This story was an honoree in the 2020 Lesher Awards competition.