CAPTION: Mr. Messina and two students work on a ‘computercraft’ project on their laptops. Soon enough, these students will find themselves in a different place during G block–and Mr. Messina with new students to get to know.

By Courtney Duffy

When is that paper due? How many days are left in the semester? What’s the deal with midterms? Stress levels for many students skyrocket at this time of year, as the pressure of midterms comes crashing down just as they return from December break. For freshman students, the concept of half-year courses is still fairly new, and now schedules and routines will be shaken up once again with the closing of the first semester.

Freshman students, most of whom have just begun to settle into a routine and feel comfortable with their schedule will have to begin a new routine, complete with a several new classes, teachers, and classmates. Though the change of pace is quite stressful and hectic, it doesn’t seem to be dreaded by the freshman class. Changing things up at this point in the school year may be a welcomed change here at AHS.

Freshman Jacklyn Brussard says, “I like the half-year classes because, after a while, a class can get kind of boring. So switching it up every half lets you meet new people, and learn completely new stuff.”

Claire Dolan, another freshman, says that from reading through course descriptions and talking with friends, most half-year courses “seem fun, and are beneficial because it’s refreshing to switch things up at this point in the year.”

Senior Grace Zhang says she thinks “half-year courses are easier on students during the school year, but the full-year ones help students remember the subject longer. I think it depends more on the class and strengths of each student.”

One issue that many freshman seem to have is having to take certain courses first in order to take other ones. For example, if a student wanted to take a photography class, they must first take the Foundation Studio class. Brussard explains, “I’m taking an elective, environmental science, because I need to take it so I can take a forensics course my junior year. So, if I could take more courses that could get me into that forensics course earlier, I would definitely do that.” Dolan points out that she would “take art electives like photography and ceramics without having to take Foundation Studio first.”

There are a lot of small changes that come with switching courses, and Dolan picks up on the fact that some people “might not like the change between courses because it might also change your lunch period.”

Although Brussard says she prefers half-year courses, she understands the appeal of full-year courses, saying, “You get more time to work on everything. It wouldn’t be like you have to finish this assignment before this certain date because we only have this certain amount of time. You can take more time and teachers could really go through and make sure kids are learning what they need to learn.” 

Mr. Hopkins, a world history teacher, definitely prefers full-year courses. “I think students take a full-year course more seriously. Often times, half-credit courses are not taken by choice, but because it fits into their schedule, and I would rather people take my electives because they’re interested in them. I also find that students prioritize their course work because they get a lot. This results in the half-credit courses not being priorities for many students. My half-credit courses tend to draw in a lot of juniors and seniors, many of [whom] are also taking AP classes. The AP courses become a priority and therefore students do less of the work I assign and put less and less work into their half-credit courses. I take the half-year courses seriously, I’m just not sure the students do.”

Looking at the big picture, Hopkins believes that full-year courses are more beneficial for students. He says, “I don’t think colleges offer half-credit courses; you take a course in college and it typically lasts for a term, which is a full course. I feel that it has become really difficult to figure out what to cut out from the curriculum. The courses we have are designed to be full-year courses, but since many of them were asked to be taught in half as much time, you have to eliminate information, assignments, and lessons. I still haven’t even figured out how to cut back enough because I’m still behind.”  

The first semester at AHS will end on January 25, leaving only a few hectic weeks until AHS students get their slightly altered schedules. According to course selection materials, the half-credit courses available at AHS are broken down into categories: digital learning, community service, ELA, ELL, fine arts, performing arts, visual arts, health education, mathematics and computer science, physical education, science and engineering, and social studies. A few examples of half-year courses that fall under these categories are Web Design and Development, Film and 20th Century American Culture, Music Production, Innovation Design Lab, and Technical Theatre, to name a few.

Upper and lower classmen seem to have slightly contrasting views on half-year vs. full-year courses, and very different opinions than those of a teacher. There are concerns about the reasons why students choose the classes they pick. It could be because the class simply works well with their schedule, or perhaps it is because students believe it is an easier, less stressful route than a full year course.

Hopkins says, “I don’t think half-year courses are students’ first choices. I don’t think students prefer them over full-year courses. Unless, they are looking for something they think will be of less seriousness and difficulty. This becomes a problem with teaching the course if that is the student perception.’’