New SHS courses promote student expression

Solon High School has an array of courses for students to sign up for.

Lexi Sussman

Solon High School has an array of courses for students to sign up for.

Madison McGirr, Web Editor

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Solon High School has a multitude of courses  that cater to seemingly every type of student. For the 2017-18 school year, SHS has expanded their catalogue and added seven new electives: Facing History and Ourselves, African American History, AP Research, Film Studies, Robotics, Forensics and Media Communications. With the vast selection of classes offered, students are curious what to expect when signing up this upcoming spring.


Facing History and Ourselves

This new course is an extension of an international educational and professional development organization of the same name. In other words, this elective is taught at other schools across the country and even across the world. The course will last one semester and will provide half  of a history credit. The class begins with learning about oneself and individuality, then expands into different societies and looks into remorseful events in history. Smith’s class mainly focuses on the Holocaust and then moves into an individual research project.

Smith believes this class offers a conversation between students that none of her other history classes do.  Similar to a civics course, SHS social studies teacher Karen Smith believes this course offers students an open forum to express themselves: “ I thought [this class would] be a really cool way to open students’ eyes to different cultures and events,” Smith said. “[Students will look at] why events happen and why people react the way they do. So we’re analyzing the sociology and human behavior behind it and how it can prevent similar atrocities from happening in the future.”

The journal-based course, meaning grades are mainly based on writing entries, offers an alternative curriculum in the classroom. With no tests or quizzes, the class continually encourages students to question their morality, opinions and history itself. Lauren Makaryk, an SHS senior, enjoys the different environment the elective provides. “This course has really broadened my view of myself, as well as my views in life,” Makaryk said. “I tend to stick with the safe side of things, the norm, or try to just fit in with the crowd. This course has opened me up to new experiences and has allowed me to look deeper into topics/events. This is a class where you learn a lot about yourself, and causes you think about your values and beliefs, tests how you see yourself fitting in society, and how you see other people fitting into society.”

SHS senior Julian Broderick shares a similar tune as Makaryk towards the new class. Originally taking the class just to fill in a gap in his schedule, Broderick was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoys the elective.

“Whether it be the history of American slavery, bullying, current events, the Holocaust, or patriotism, there is a lesson that will affect each person in the class due to their own personal beliefs, experiences, or relationship to the issue at hand,” Broderick said. “It is this personal effect that drives some of the most deep and thought provoking discussions that we have in class and it really defines the course differently from others.”

All three encourage students of all grades to sign up for the elective and embrace the power of discussion.


African-American History

Similar to Facing History, African-American History is a semester long course which offers half of a history credit. The course curriculum offers a deeper inspection into African and West African culture via the Middle Passage to slavery and slave rebellions which are often not discussed in many history classes, to notable African-American leaders and movements throughout history. Taught by Aaron Jeter, a social studies teacher at SHS, this elective offers and promotes diversity.

“I think all students would enjoy this class no matter their background: white, black, Asian, Latino, male and female,” Jeter explains. “This class talks about various issues affecting America and you cannot really and truly understand how African-Americans were part of America, so much so the Founders included laws specifically pertaining to African-Americans within our Constitution.”

SHS senior Ashley Starks believes this class differs from others since its subject matter goes more in depth than other history classes do.

It’s allowing me to learn more about my ethnicity,” Starks said. “Typically in history classes, we discuss the history of whites, but African-American History is the first time I’ve been able to learn about my culture.”

Senior Sydnie Singleton shares the same enthusiasm about the course, stating that everyone should consider taking the course to become educated on minority empowerment.

“Everyone should be educated on black history,” Singleton said. “If you can’t understand what’s going on with the black community, at least stay woke to what’s happening.”

Jeters classroom encourages students to learn and discuss topics that may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar to students.

I think what makes this class special is we tend to focus on people and movements not always discussed in traditional American history classes,” Jeter said. “African-Americans have been an integral part of the development of this great country of ours. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, they haven’t always been highlighted or at the forefront in traditional history classes.”

Starks and Singleton both recommend every student to consider adding this course to their schedule to learn about the importance of African American influence in history.

“I would recommend this class considering all of the [recent] racial division,” Starks said. “It is important to not only know about white history, but black history as well. With race becoming more of a controversial topic in America, it’s good to get educated about all aspects.”


AP Research

Last year, juniors were introduced to AP Capstone, the two year course includes AP Seminar and AP Research. This is the first year students are taking AP Research. This AP course is fairly new in a broader sense, with the College Board only introducing the class in 2014. The course focuses on students conducting their own primary research in a specific area and analyzing those results. Teresa Pace, the AP Capstone teacher at SHS, believes teaching students how to ask questions and find answers is a critical skill all students need to learn.

“I’ve just always loved teaching students how to research, ask questions, search for answers,” Pace said. “This, to me, is the most critical skill they need for higher education, the workforce and life.  Students need the opportunity to exercise critical thinking and research.  In some ways, on a smaller scale, [AP Capstone coursework] is what PhD students accomplish with the dissertation work.”

With the course being two years, many students are hesitant to pursue this class, putting this AP in risk of  being discontinued at SHS. Margaret Ferris, an SHS senior and AP Capstone student, thinks it would be a shame if others would not get to experience what she has.

I think it taught me really important life skills that are only kind of grazed upon in other classes,” Ferris said. “This was real exposure to what the world outside high school looks like, at least in my mind, and I already feel so much more prepared. I would definitely recommend these classes, and their two years, to any student who plans on doing any sort of research in their life. I think that AP Capstone taught me a lot about how to grow up, time manage, work in teams, and who I want to be, which are definitely things I think everyone could benefit from.”

SHS senior Jakin Zhang agrees with Ferris, as she also feels like AP Capstone prepares her for college. Both seniors agree that the freedom of the course really makes the course worthwhile.

“The free-structured course design allows for personal exploration and that’s a special feature not seen in 99% of high school courses,” Zhang said. “That’s a major reason [why] any student would love this course.”

All three agree that all SHS students will benefit from this class outside of high school and wish their peers will consider taking it. Additionally, Zhang and Ferris would like to see the course be refined and count for an English credit in the future. As part of the first group of students to take this class, they hope the class will be fine tuned so that more students will want to take it.


Film Studies

English teacher Kelly Fishman’s new course, Film Studies, consists of watching, analyzing and critiquing different films throughout history. Fishman, whose undergraduate degree is in film and theatre, parallels the class’ analyzation of film to the evaluation of literature. She believes this class is suited for visual learners and stresses how fitting this class is for creative students.

I think that being able to analyze visually is really good for students because so much of what they do throughout the day is analyzing the written word, and this gives them an opportunity to just look at things differently,” she said. “Especially students who are visual learners, this is a great way for them to take those writing skills and actually hone them by analyzing something visual and they’re, without knowing it, getting better at their writing across their other classes. It’s kind of like teaching the fun things about literature but in a visual medium.”

Kyle Maurer, a senior at SHS, agrees with Fishman and believes coming to class is a nice change of pace compared to his other classes.

“It’s a lot of fun and relaxing,” Maurer said. “I get to see a lot of famous old features that I’ve never gotten to see in the past, like some of Charlie Chaplin’s work. I’ve always been a fan of slapstick and it’s actually very funny.”

Maurer assures the class still has rigorous coursework, one of the assignments given required a nine paragraph essay. He does emphasize how he enjoys the class time spent analyzing film with his peers. Junior Jenna Nakonieczny seconded Mauer’s opinion by adding how the class creates chemistry between the students that analyze films together.

“We have a small class and a diverse group of kids in my class, but we all get along really well and we have a good time,” Nakonieczny said. “If something happens in the film, we’ll all laugh about it, or if I make a comment, everyone will [respond]. [Film] brings us all together.”



Robotics, taught by technology and engineering teacher Joseph Ferencie, is a group-oriented class that focuses on building remote- controlled robots that are capable of completing challenges. Later on in the curriculum, students will learn how to  program the robots to do certain actions. Senior Taylor Siegel,  likes how hands-on Robotics is. According to Siegel,  since they always have projects, students are never bored within the class.

“I would definitely recommend this class to other students because it is very fun when building and very satisfying when you’ve completed a project,” Siegel said.

Senior Jenna Freireich shares Siegels sentiment, stating that the course is very exciting to her. She believes the course isn’t like a typical class and is a great break in the day to express her creative side.

“It’s special because there are no tests or homework,” Freireich said. “It’s cool because you are able to come in and build and it’s really fun to be able to drive your robot once it’s complete.”

Both seniors recommend the class for students who are alternative learners and enjoy hands-on learning.



This new science elective at SHS features a unique topic: crime scene investigation. In this class, students will learn the basics of forensics, how evidence is collected, how it is analyzed at the crime scene or in a forensic lab, and then how crime scene reconstruction occurs. However, to take the course, students must have previously completed biology and chemistry. The course instructor, chemistry teacher Matthew Kirk, believes the students’ demand for this course is what pushed him to teach it. Taylor Vorisek, a SHS senior, is one of the students who waited for this class.

“I took this course due to my interest in criminology,” Vorisek said. “I’ve also always been a fan of shows like Bones, CSI, and NCIS, and taking this course is like a dream come true.”

Kirk encourages true crime lovers like Vorisek as well as science lovers to take this elective.

“I think any student interested in forensics, or science in general, would enjoy this course,” Kirk said. “Since it is an elective, my goal is to make it engaging and entertaining. I want students who are fascinated by crime scene investigation and interested in learning about real crimes. As often as possible, we tie-in real crimes with what we are covering in class.”

Hannah Herman, a junior at SHS, said that the hands-on class made her rethink her future.

“If you want to go into anything involving criminology, the class is perfect for you,” Herman said. “it’s very interesting and will teach you how crimes get solved. Ever since middle school, I’ve had my heart set on being a physical therapist but now since this class got me back into what really interests me, I’ve been rethinking about what I want to major in.”

The quizzes and tests within the class are open note, and most of the class time is spent conducting experiments, providing an escape from everyday routine.  Kirk stresses how special the class is and wants passionate students to join his class.

“I am not going to push Forensics over other classes, since I think high school students should take electives in what interests them, but I will say that we are trying to organize field trips to the medical examiner’s office,” Kirk said. “Who doesn’t love a field trip day?”

Media Communications 

The seventh and final new course announced for the 2017-18 school year is Media Communications. The class, previously known as Journalism, has now adapted new features and forms of media like video and graphic design. Students who take the class are now able to choose which path they’d like to follow: whether it be making video announcements, working on the yearbook, writing for the school paper or even marketing, students can find enjoyment in one of the paths in the course. Margaret Locke, the course instructor and a SHS English teacher, believes this class is suited for anyone and can provide skills for the real world.

“I think the biggest thing is that you’re doing work that gets published and seen by other people,” Locke said. “If you write an essay for English, your teacher reads it and maybe a peer editor,  but other than that, [the essay] is just a way for you to learn something. Anything you write in this class is going to be viewed by the public which is a real world application. Your work really matters.”

Andy Chen, a SHS senior, joined Media Communications without experiencing Journalism before the course change. He enjoys the creative outlet the new course creates for his artistic side.

“It’s really free flowing, there’s no strict form you have to follow,” Chen said. “It’s a lot less stress inducing. I can do whatever I want, there’s no restrictions, nothing holding me back.”

Christina Cartwright, a senior and three year member of the newspaper staff, agrees with Chen. She appreciates the malleability of the course curriculum and how lenient the class is.

“I think this class is incredibly special because it’s one of the few classes that I have that has a creative outlet,” Cartwright said. “You get to choose the type of story you want to write. I think this class includes all kinds of students. It’s a very inclusive class. I don’t have many classes that are so inclusive and creative all in one.”

Cartwright’s three-year journey has been an emotional one. Outside the classroom, Cartwright has gained friendships and connections she could’ve never imagined. With only four staff members for the Courier this year, she fears the school paper will not exist in the future if her peers don’t sign up for this class.

“I want kids to take this class because I want more kids to know about the Courier,” Cartwright said. “I feel like this class is so special, much more than the school paper will be lost [if the class is discontinued.] This is a class where I found so many people and so many ways to let my creativity out, I don’t feel like it’s just the newspaper that’s going to die. The potential friendships to be made and potential phenomenal stories will die with it. This is one of the best classes I’ve taken at the highschool and I don’t want it to die.”

Cartwright, along with Chen and Locke, encourage students to read and engage in the Courier and consider joining the class.


Overall, the new additions to SHS courses this year include something for everyone. Whether you like art, science, history or English, there is a class almost everyone can find enjoyment in. All students, while in different classes, expressed how their amazing teachers contribute to how special their class is. Consider these classes while you create your 2018-19 school year schedule.


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1 Comment

One Response to “New SHS courses promote student expression”

  1. stina on November 7th, 2017 1:50 pm

    Great job McGoober!!!!!!!!!!

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