Every year, rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors face the same struggle: choosing classes. The course catalog, almost 100 pages of course descriptions, graduation requirements and subject pathways, is an intimidating read. Consequently, it is understandable that students predominantly pick popular courses, often choosing exclusively between the “normal” lane of a class and an AP or Honors version of said class. The course catalog system, though it helpfully provides a single place to find information about the classes Paly offers, often fails to explain or publicize lesser known courses.
One example of this was the mass enrollment of juniors and seniors in AP English Language this year. As reported earlier this school year, over 400 students signed up. This mass enrollment naturally decreased sign-ups for almost every other English class offered to juniors and seniors, causing some unique English electives, such as Film Composition and Escape Literature, to be cancelled due to under-enrollment.
According to English Department Instructional Leader Shirley Tokheim, English teachers conducted a survey this year of sophomores and juniors so they could run in-demand classes. While The Campanile believes this is a good start, it doesn’t fully address the crux of the problem: the lack of publicity and advertisement of lesser known classes.
Students primarily turn to the course catalog or consult their friends to choose courses, which puts niche or less well-known courses at a disadvantage when it comes to enrollment. This is problematic because it robs Paly students of the opportunity to take more out-of-the-box classes.
To combat this problem, some teachers have taken initiative in advertising their classes. Human Anatomy Teacher Randy Scilingo is one such teacher. Last year, while advertising Human Anatomy, which was offered at Paly for the first time this year, Scilingo created a 2 ½ minute screencast that mapped out his course. The screencast showed off the different parts of the classroom he would be utilizing as a part of the course, as well as some sample lessons, activities and projects. He then distributed the screencast to other teachers in the science department. These teachers, including physics, chemistry and biology teachers, gave a short spiel about the new class and showed the screencast to their students. Scilingo said this was an effective way to advertise Human Anatomy, as the class is running with two full sections.
The Campanile thinks Paly administration, as well as the different Paly departments, should follow Scilingo’s lead and make a more concerted effort to raise awareness of the many courses that might otherwise escape the notice of students.
One idea is to hold an elective fair during lunch or tutorial, where teachers could promote their classes and answer questions from students face-to-face. The last school Scilingo taught at, Homestead High School in Cupertino, held an elective fair, and, according to Scilingo, the fair was effective. Holding such a fair would be a good first step towards providing students with better resources choose classes.
Another possible solution is more class-to-class presentations modeled on Scilingo’s Human Anatomy screencast. Though this places more onus on individual teachers to raise awareness for their courses, it also allows for teachers to have more control over their courses’ description, as well as talk about their class with more specific detail.
Courses such as Human Anatomy and Positive Psychology touch on topics that aren’t discussed in more popular classes, topics which nonetheless make up an important part of a student’s education. It is only to the detriment of students that they are not made aware of these opportunities — expanding course selection resources beyond the course catalog would be a good first step.