It’s the time of year when students begin to explore the multitude of options awaiting them in their high school careers. There seem to be so many different classes to take- from Math Analysis to Human Geography- and no time at all to choose. Students bustle in and out of the guidance counselors’ offices, asking which classes would be best for them or which would look good on their transcripts for college. Course selection season has come once again!
In the midst of this course commotion, a freshman receives a crisp white sheet of paper entitled, “American Studies Application.” Curious, the student reads the content: it describes the two-year special program that the teachers have been talking about in class recently. It’s a joint English and Social Studies program that centers on providing an immersive experience in history, the student ascertains. Reading further, the freshman discovers that there is a process to gaining acceptance into the program. One must fill out the application form, get recommendations from that year’s English and History teachers, and sit in to write an impromptu essay for consideration. Essay? thinks the bewildered student, No thanks.
Had the student gone on to write that essay and potentially gain acceptance, the student would have discovered what the American Studies program was truly about. The program exposes students to American history through college-style seminars, engaging discussions (which often turn into heated debates), and hands-on projects. The course is focused on giving students a new perspective on the nation through an examination of past and present developments in American history and governmental affairs. Instead of using textbooks, students use a range of primary sources (including, one time, the epitaph on a grave that we had to read by jumping the fence and breaking into a private graveyard) and books- similar to what they’ll be seeing far beyond high school.
“You learn about the history and about the culture of America through the literature that we read, which is all encompassing, be it a newspaper article, or a will, a deed, a journal, or anything that is written down and whose purpose it is to communicate an idea,” said Ms. Hans, the American Studies English teacher (the legend herself). “So that is extremely important for any student to be able to do because it allows them to get to know the origins of how we live here in America in order to make better decisions about the present that will affect our future.” What makes American Studies so worthwhile is its ability to fashion students who think critically about the world around them and who seek to solve problems that are often ignored.
And beyond teaching students to understand society and how to fix it, American Studies is about building connections. When I walked into the American Studies room on the first day of school, I wasn’t close friends with anyone in my class. We were all very different people who had very little in common outside of the program itself. I even heard one student remark, “Well, this year’s gonna suck,” and I genuinely believed it would. But it definitely did not. The class quickly became my favorite (and everyone’s favorite), and the people I didn’t know before became my second family. “My favorite part of American Studies is the fact that it extends over a two year period with the same students and teachers,” said Ms. Riordan, the American Studies history teacher (another legend), “It is incredibly rewarding to experience a group grow into a true learning community over that time. I think that benefits students by encouraging them to build intellectual relationships with each other and to trust and support each other as self-sufficient learners.”
This sense of connection and unity (solidarity!) is strengthened through the many field trips we take. As sophomores, students go on a three-day trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, stopping at historical locations including Jamestown, Monticello, and the Williamsburg bowling alley (not historical, but very fun). Juniors go on a trip to New York City to see the Tenement Museum and understand how immigrants of the late 1800s lived their lives, and they also go to Washington D.C. in the spring. The sophomores and the juniors also go together on a joined trip to Boston every two years.
In my three years in the high school, I think I’ve developed most as a student and as a person through this course. It has taken me so far already, and I can’t wait to see where all us in the AMSTUD class of 2017-2018 head in the future. So if you’re the freshman receiving that crisp, white sheet of paper in the midst of the course selection season, don’t pass on the essay. I promise you won’t regret it.
editor in chief
Graphic: Ms. Riordan