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News and Notes

#BestYearEver: Middle and High School Curriculum

Guest Contributor: Jill Henry, Director of Instruction

Every school year feels like it has the potential to be the best year ever. A new school year is a time for new beginnings — you can make new friends, join a new club or team, and develop new study habits that translate into academic success. A new school year is also a time for new school supplies (my favorite!), new textbooks, and a schedule of new classes. Whitmore Lake Middle and High School has a course guide full of different classes for students to pick from each school year. While the Michigan Merit Curriculum requires some hours of the day be filled with classes like Economics, Geometry, and English Language Arts, students are able to round out their schedules by selecting from a diverse list of elective courses. Some of our elective offerings are tried and true favorites, like LuAnn Easlick’s Practical Law or Mike LaNew’s Olympic Sports. However, the classes featured below are all new to the schedule for the 2019-2020 school year. As you’ll read, these classes inspire lifelong learning by connecting students to things like travel, movies, and swimming (more of my favorites!) and helping to ensure that lessons learned during the best year ever have a lasting and meaningful impact. 

Christopher Restorick, a 7th grader in Ms. Betz’s 1st hour Road Trip USA class, approaches the SMART board during the warm-up. Without hesitation, he pointed to Virginia when challenged by Ms. Betz.

Road Trip USA: Road Trip USA is a new elective offered to students in 7th grade. According to the course guide,  “Students will take a ‘road trip’ across the United States to learn more about our great nation. Exploration will include the national parks as well as the history, geography, economy, culture, and landmarks of the different regions of the United States.”

Longtime English Department teacher Carrie Betz enthusiastically embraced the chance to teach this social studies elective. With the ultimate goal of students memorizing both the 50 states and state capitals, Ms. Betz set out to develop several projects where students would have the opportunity to conduct research and learn more about the United States. In one project, students investigated how the riders of the Pony Express delivered mail and newspapers from Missouri to California in the 1860s. Students also enjoyed studying the culture and traditions of regional cuisine. In this project, students worked collaboratively to research foods popular in different regions of the country and used their research to create a restaurant menu. 

Kari Peach, a 7th-grade student in Ms. Betz’s 6th-hour class, summarized her experience in the class so far by saying, “I’ve learned about my states, theme parks, national parks, zoos, and presidents from America. We also get to try food from the regions and that is awesome!”

Ms. Betz also provides plenty of practice at memorizing states and capitals. Students color and label maps, play online games and do daily geography warm-ups to stay sharp. Worried that students might dread this class requirement, Ms. Betz said she has been pleasantly surprised at how well students have embraced the challenge and how much fun students are having!

Ms. Betz plans for the class to culminate with a project where students will draw upon what they learned all semester to plan a cross-country road trip — Road Trip USA. 

Junior Jacob Medina with Ms. Huddleston in Literature as Film. On his experiences in the class, Jacob reflected, “This class is informative on both the techniques and processes of film and provides me with the chance to see movies I thought I would never be able to see. This class is a unique experience and a class that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I’m glad I chose this class as one of my electives.”

Literature as Film: High School English teacher Candy Huddleston regularly asks her students to read, discuss, and analyze classic and modern works of literature. What excites her about teaching the elective Literature as Film is that she is teaching students to think more critically using a medium they already love. 

Open to students in grades 10-12, Literature as Film is a semester-long class where students learn the different elements of film, including camera angles, editing, lights, sound, and special effects, and how these elements of film are utilized strategically by the film’s director to help realize his/her vision. This semester students viewed Life is Beautiful and Chocolat to study and analyze photography, and Walk the Line and Singin’ in the Rain to study and analyze sound. Junior Jena Babcock said, “Before this class, I didn’t realize how much actually went into film making and films in general. I love watching movies, and now I can analyze and know what really goes into them and what the director is going for.” 

When not looking at specific elements of film, students also study the evolution of film and various film genres. Students watched Gold Rush from the Silent Film era and Maltese Falcon for an example of Film Noir. 

It’s not all popcorn and movie watching — students apply their learning in a variety of assignments and projects. Ms. Huddleston’s favorite project is having students analyze their favorite films. “They generally don’t choose a favorite movie based on elements of film, but they look at their favorite through new lenses. This really cements their understanding of everything from photography, to lighting, to theme,” she said. Near the end of the semester, students will share their new insights into their favorite movies with their classmates.  

Ms. Huddleston said she also relishes the opportunity to expose students to films they would not otherwise watch. Her students seem to agree. Junior Delaney Peters said, “I like that this class allows me to watch classic movies that I wouldn’t think to watch outside of this class.” 

Ms. Huddleston has been most surprised by how often students report that they now view all films differently as a result of the class. “They begin paying attention to different elements of film when viewing movies for fun or on their own as well.” Senior Alissa Lund identified the benefit of the class as one that is true for her. “I like that I now watch films with a greater understanding.” 

Students in grades 9-12 show off for the camera before class begins.

Aquatics: Middle School math teacher Alicia Webber has a passion for competitive swimming and aquatics. In deciding which electives to offer, we couldn’t help but want to capitalize on Ms. Webber’s decade of teaching instructional swimming at the middle and high school level and her 15+ years of experience as a swimming coach. Ms. Webber said it best: “It just made sense to share my love of the water with the students of Whitmore Lake.”

Aquatics is open to students in grades 9-12. In this class, students can learn to swim or learn to swim better. The course focuses on front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, elementary backstroke, sidestroke, diving, flip turns, touch turns, treading water, and water safety. 

Mrs. Webber keeps her students engaged both in and out of the pool. In the pool, Mrs. Webber most enjoys teaching students rotary breathing and front crawl. Mrs. Webber believes that “being able to breathe while swimming is powerful and the first step to swim team success.”  Outside of the pool, her favorite assignment to date was a parent interview students conducted to learn more about her students’ families and their swimming history and traditions. During her parent interview, sophomore Leslie Parton discovered that her mom first learned to swim in her apartment pool at the age of 6. 

Ms. Webber has been most surprised by the high interest and level of participation. She said, “This isn’t a leisure swimming class; this is an instructional swimming class that focuses on competitive swimming skills.  My students are rocking it out, swimming daily, and improving and growing so much as swimmers.” Senior Blake Cawood summarized his experience in the class: “Mrs. Webber makes swimming fun. I don’t like running or lifting weights. I like swimming. Swimming is a great way for someone like me to be physically active.” 

While we believe our small size is our greatest attribute as a school, we recognize that it comes with a few challenges, one being the ability to offer a broad number of elective courses. However, we also believe that quality, not quantity, matters most. We’re proud of the experiences we’re extending to our students with our new courses. They engage students’ minds and bodies. They expand students’ cultural knowledge and provide them with another means to stay physically active. They are educational yet fun. They are one of the many reasons why this is the #BestYearEver. 

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