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Electrified Electives

High School Administration Expands Elective Opportunities

In the makerspace, engineers experiment with various softwares and machines to build 3D designs. Down the hall, artists create their masterpieces and fill the room with enthusiastic chatter. Outside, athletes mentor and bond with lower schoolers through sports. These, and several other courses, constitute the new expanded elective opportunities for AJA students. Electives aim to provide students with “alternatives beyond their core classes,” according to Head of High School Dr. Sim Pearl, who believes these courses are not only “really important” but also “desired” by students.

The new elective initiative is part of Dr. Pearl’s greater goal to bring AJA high school into what he calls a “virtuous cycle.” He observes that schools often remove extra-curricular opportunities when faced with smaller student bodies, perpetuating a “non-virtuous cycle” where more and more opportunities disappear. Instead, Dr. Pearl feels that, although contrary to an economically minded educators’ instincts, a smaller student body should prompt AJA to augment its elective program. He feels that having more elective courses will cause growth in the student body and consequently provide more tuition, which “can be fed right back into the program” to further create a robust extracurricular program for students.

The new elective initiative is part of Dr. Pearl’s greater goal to bring AJA high school into what he calls a “virtuous cycle.”

Now a couple months into this new program, some students appreciate the perks Dr. Pearl attributes to electives. For instance, junior Natalie Borukhov benefits from the electives this year as a necessary “break from actual classes that are part of the curriculum.” More than a break, Natalie appreciates how electives provide “hands on” opportunities for students to have “fun” and “experiment with what they like.”

These elective opportunities vary in topic to cater to a wide variety of interests and include a mixture of graded and pass-fail courses. They run on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays between 3:20 and 4:05 PM. Students can also opt to take an additional elective course that immediately follows the first elective slot and runs until 4:55 PM.

As one of these elective options, students can learn Spanish I, a year-long, graded course. Dr. Pearl believes this provides students with the crucial opportunity to learn a world language in addition to Hebrew.

Students interested in visual art can choose between taking Studio Art and AP Studio Art. Mrs. Hana Hecht, who also teaches history, describes the elective as an “exhilarating” opportunity to utilize one of her passions in the classroom. The Studio Art track focuses on “basic principles of art and design,” according to Mrs. Hecht. Students in the AP Art track select a theme for a portfolio, which they will work on all year, researching the topic through ten sustained investigation pieces, and ultimately producing five final works to be graded by AP evaluators.

Forensic science, a graded elective course, provides students with a “window into the study of forensics,” according to the teacher, Mrs. Catherine Brand. The course covers the basics of forensics through various case studies and method analyses.

The engineering elective serves as an opportunity for students to explore the High School’s newly refurbished maker space. Teacher Ms. Amanda Tinch explains that the course aims to help students “learn problem-solving and critical thinking skills through technology.” Projects include 3D design and printing, building Tzedakah boxes, and coding with Python to create music.

As well as classroom-based courses, students can participate in electives that focus on athletics. The Junior Jags elective is a place for High School students to act as mentors for Lower School athletes in volleyball or flag football. During meeting times, members plan for and execute sessions with the Lower School students as well as help set up for after-school sports games.

A student initiative spearheaded by senior Eli Cohen, the weightlifting elective focuses on building a few muscle groups in each session through various exercises with Coach Kate, who supervises and leads the course. Weightlifting has previously been a student-run club, and Eli worked with the administration to transform it into an official elective course this year. Eli appreciates “having a specific, allotted time” for weightlifting, which “allows it to be taken a little more seriously.”

In addition to the secular electives, students can also register for Jewish Exploration courses (J-Ex for short), chances to dive into a Judaic class beyond the core Talmud and Chumash requirement. Currently, students can take Gemara Bekiut as their J-Ex course. Gemara Bekuit provides students with a “skill-based” foundation for learning Gemara, according to Dr. Pearl.

In the past, these J-Ex classes occurred during their own period, but, to accommodate three elective periods this year, the administration moved them into the elective slot and require incoming freshmen to take four semesters worth of these classes during electives.

The implementation of this elective program is far from complete. Beginning next semester, Dr. Pearl hopes to expand the J-Ex courses and offer a plethora of options including Jewish History, Jewish Mysticism, and leadership, depending on teacher availability and student interest. Additionally, he hopes to fine-tune the curriculum of electives such as engineering and determine whether it will focus on robotics, computer science, or 3D design. Furthermore, High School General Studies Principal Mr. Joel Rojek explained that the administration will continue to experiment with the optional elective period after school and gauge student interest in it. Overall, Dr. Pearl expresses excitement about these new elective opportunities and hopes that “they’ll continue to garner interest and [grow] upon themselves [with] more and more options.”

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