Students explore “hidden” electives

As course selection shuts its doors and the process of piecing together schedules for next year begins, counselors start their yearly struggle of packing kids into extremely popular classes — the kind of courses where five teachers juggle three periods each and the classes are still at maximum capacity. 

For social studies, that class is Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology or AP Macroeconomics, while for English, it seems like everybody is enrolling in the newly introduced AP English Language.

While counselors struggle to fit enrollees into these classes, some classes remain relatively untouched in the course guide, like niche “hidden” electives such as Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies and Positive Psychology.

Because of their typical low-enrollment, and overall niche topic, these classes are often dubbed “hidden classes” –– classes that don’t run every year nor attract many people, but that delve into an important part of social curriculum that is often brushed over in core classes. 

Among some of these low-enrollment hidden classes is Gender Studies, which was first technically offered in the course guide in 2006, and ran for the very first time this year with 12 students. 

Social Science Instructional Leader and teacher Jaclyn Edwards taught the flagship class this year. 

The course is about examining gender through politics and history, a topic left completely untouched in any social studies or English class. The small class size forms a much different learning environment than those typical packed core classes. 

“There’s nowhere to hide. Over time, (students) really benefit and they become much more comfortable with one another when talking about sensitive topics.” 

Jaclyn Edwards

Another similar niche, low enrollment class is Ethnic Studies, with a single class that hosts fewer than 20 people. 

“Ethnic studies is the study of different ethnicities and their history,” junior enrollee Isabel Armstrong said. “It explores racism, the relationship between politics and race and current events.” 

Armstrong decided to take the class because of a personal desire to take the most interesting and pigeonholed classes at Paly, so when course registration rolled around spring of her sophomore year, she immediately signed up for the class. 

“When I saw that they offered Ethnic Studies, I thought it would be a really fascinating topic to explore,” Armstrong said. 

According to Armstrong, the small class size makes the learning space unique and more tight-knit, as opposed to the more impersonal larger required classes. 

“It is definitely an intimate learning environment, and it is based on group discussions, which can lead to really interesting debates and revelations. My opinions are challenged in a way that makes my argument and synthesis skills a lot better, and my horizons are widened.” 

Junior Isabel Armstrong

AP Psychology is one of the most popular social science electives at Paly, however, Positive Psychology — a semester long class that delves into what makes people happy — is another psychology course that is often left neglected in the shadow of its broader AP sibling. 

Instead of taking any number of other more popular social studies electives, junior Rachel Richmond decided to take a chance and try something new with Positive Psychology. 

“Positive Psychology is about what makes people happy,” junior Richmond said. “We talk about how to lead more meaningful and happy lives.” 

The class is blended and, unlike most classes, only runs once a week after school on  Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. as a Twilight class, which gives the average students’ schedule a little more flexibility. 

“The class has actually been much more interesting than I had anticipated. Since I’ve started taking it, I’ve begun to understand more about what makes me happy and how I can be more happy in my day to day life.” 

Junior Rachel Richmond

While core classes such as U.S. History or World History cover more broad, factual points of views, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies & Positive Psychology hone in on niche, specific parts of culture or history that core classes tend to skimp on. 

Instead of cramming every last possible rigorous class and AP into their schedule every year,  students should not forget about these niche social studies electives. 

These courses brush over and delve into what core classes completely forgets and leave out — not only satisfying personal interests, but building a more competent, educated and well-rounded point of view of society as a whole. 

“Whether it’s Ethnic Studies or Gender Studies, it really gives us teachers the opportunities to talk about topics we don’t have time for in the core classes,” Edwards said. “You just don’t have time to dive into more specific things that may perk student interest.” 

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