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All About Twelfth Grades Humanities Structural Change

The start of the new school year always comes with some changes, and this year we have seen big shifts in Northwest School’s twelfth-grade humanities structure. Seniors are now getting the opportunity to have more of a voice in the humanities electives they are taking. Humanities Department Chair Curtis Hisayasu provided a deep dive into these structural changes.

Curtis’s main job working as the Department Chair is to oversee and support the development of curriculum across all the grade levels. When Curtis came into this role one of the things he was asked to take a closer look at was the structure of the twelfth-grade humanities curriculum. Curtis says “I started off at this school as a twelfth-grade teacher and without knowing what the larger learning goals were; it was a challenge for me personally to design a class in that space.” Thinking about new teachers and wanting to create a solid curriculum, Curtis wanted to make sure there was more clarity around the meaning of these classes and what they were supposed to accomplish.

 It has always been the case that twelfth graders at Northwest have the opportunity to choose from a small menu of humanities courses. This gives them the opportunity to have more agency over what they study during their senior year. According to Curtis, “the big change for students is that we are now working off of trimester-long electives. Students are now getting to take five electives. Since these classes are now trimester electives these classes are now shorter, and quicker and are in some ways more intense.” This is a big change compared to last year when seniors were only taking two humanities classes over the course of the school year.

Over the last few years, Northwest has lacked a system for deciding who teaches these twelfth-grade humanities courses. One of the consequences of this is that there were not as many opportunities for staff to craft a curriculum that works together. Curtis described how “one of the biggest changes students didn’t see is that we created a proposal system for these courses.” Curtis also mentioned that even the teachers who’ve been teaching twelfth-grade courses here at Northwest for years have had to “apply.” The teachers have to present a proposal for their class regarding their learning goals which allows the department to be thoughtful about choosing courses that would offer the most diverse options for students

This change also means that student choice is honored in a better way. Curtis notes that “When we originally had a system with only two classes, you were going to take all year. if you’re teaching that one class that every student is trying to get into, only twenty students are going to get into it and the rest are just out of luck for the whole year. In this new system, some of those more popular classes are able to have sixty students take them.”

Leila S. ‘23 said that she likes “getting a very diverse experience of learning. We are getting different teachers, different teaching styles, and much more right before college, which I think is very important.” Another senior,  Zoey N. ‘23  mentions the depth of what teachers can cover in one trimester saying, “I feel like the depth of what the teachers can go into is really limited when teachers only have one trimester.” Both Zoey and Leila said that they do not think they can draw a conclusion about the positive or negative impacts of this change until after the second trimester when they fully have experienced the new curriculum structure. 

Scott Davis is a twelfth-grade humanities teacher and has been a part of The Northwest School since 1999. Scott mentioned his personal experience with this humanities change saying, “A positive aspect of this change is being able to work with so many students of the senior class. Over the course of three trimesters, I will be teaching 60% of all the seniors.” However, this also comes with some negatives. Scott says, “I am missing the depth of the relationships with the students. I am barely getting to fully know the students in my course now, and it is already time for my students to move on to the next course.” Even though Scott gets to know more seniors, the depth of these relationships are on a more shallow level. Scott went on to say that he doesn’t know how he feels yet about this humanities change. “Jury is still out,” he says.

This humanities change for the twelfth grade is very different from anything Northwest has done previously. This change has lots of positive aspects but also some negative as well. As the school year goes on, it will be interesting to see how this change plays out for teachers and students of the twelfth grade.


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