Shrinking electives, less variety

Julia Ceraolo, Copy Editor

     This semester, several social studies courses have been either erased from East Lake’s master curriculum or removed from the schedules of their usual respective teachers. Contemporary History,  African American History, and AP Government and Politics are gone indefinitely, while Asian studies may come back next semester if a sufficient number of students sign up for it. 

     “I think it’s because the teachers that typically teach semester-long courses also teach AP,” said senior guidance counselor Dina Prairie. “The increased number of students signing up for AP classes this year has left little room for semester-long courses. Even though there are seven periods now, the number of students at East Lake is increasing literally every day.” The freshman class is larger than average: Prairie continued to get new seniors several weeks into the school year.

     Penny Cathey, head of the social studies department and quintessential AP US History teacher, had to stop teaching Women’s Studies; Economics teacher Linda Manning now teaches it instead. A combination of factors is encouraging vaster numbers of students to go the AP route. The annually strengthening college applicant pool is resulting in increasingly anxious college-bound high schoolers. As Prairie asserted, “It’s more difficult to get into college without three, four, five AP classes on your transcript.” 

     And since the AP system at East Lake operates on a system of “equal opportunity,” you can take whatever you want, because there is no criteria anymore. “There are some students in AP classes who realize too late that they shouldn’t be there,” Prairie added. Indeed, she undergoes many trying conferences in which these students unsuccessfully attempt to drop the higher-level classes in favor of something less rigorous. It is especially hard to make the switch now because the diminished number of sections in the alternative classes have filled their quotas.

     Prairie hopes that students will become more careful about their initial schedule requests in the future. “Mr. Poth is adamant about keeping students in classes for which they signed up,” she said. If more of the semester-long courses were offered to underclassmen, perhaps the social studies electives would have survived the upperclassmen stampede on AP. But the school board and other officials believe that Law Studies and History of the Vietnam War, for instance, are probably not topics for which ninth- and tenth-graders are prepared. They suit the college-preparatory mindset of upperclassmen. 

     As it stands now, Women’s Studies, Law Studies, World Religions, Psychology, Sociology, and History of the Vietnam War are all still available for juniors and seniors. Ms. Prairie wants more students to consider signing up for them. Although AP European History, taught by Alan Kay, is still alive at East Lake, some might call it unwell: its dearth of students requires only one small class period. 

     The only quality point course that has been removed this year is AP Government and Politics. For financial reasons, schools have had to eliminate any course that attracts fewer than twenty students. Ironically, more students signed up for it this year (“somewhere in the teens,” Spennato believed,) than last year, when ten students reaped the benefits of a small liberal arts-style environment, in which, as he attested, you can’t get away with not reading the material; everyone is a part of the discussion. Still, even a class with twice as many students as last year would have benefitted: “We are all citizens- a rigorous class in government is a good starting point,” he said. Surprised at the new standard for elective class size, he was disappointed that the course could not resume.

     Spennato’s class last year had an 80% pass rate on the exam, which, he said, was “twice the county average. There were four 5’s and four 4’s in a class of ten students.” Needless to say, Spennato was pleased with the results (it was his first year teaching the course), “but,” he said, “of course the kids get the credit.” 

      In the future, he said, “I’m hoping it’ll make a comeback. But the truth is that it could be promoted more [to students].” He admitted that he himself did not try to encourage students to sign up. “My approach was, ‘I don’t want to sell the class.’” He explained that Gov./Politics is one of those subjects in high school in which you’d have to be sufficiently interested to take it twice, since Pinellas County requires everyone to include a preliminary, semester-long civics class in 9th grade. (In other states, 9th grade is not the norm for this requirement.) However, Spennato thinks that many students could enjoy and excel in the class; it’s significantly more in-depth than the freshman-year version, resulting more interesting, less perfunctory content. Next year, he plans to introduce it to students before they sign up for electives.