New Electives Excite

Courses undergo strict approval process

Every few years, the lifesaving course catalog advertises brand new classes that are available to students. This year, the catalog once again delivered a lineup of interesting new course offerings that have attracted ample interest from the student body. This school year, new classes include Identities and Representations, Power & Place Twin Cities Histories, Holocaust & Genocide Studies, Advanced Topics Research, and World Politics and Film. All of these new course offerings are history electives courses.


Getting a new course on the course catalog however, is no small feat. Usually a faculty member or several in a department have an idea for a course. Social studies teacher Beth Calderone details the process of creating a course proposal. She says, “[the idea] gets vetted in department meetings usually informally first and then in a formal way. We take the idea to the Upper School Administrative Counsel to get approval. It often also goes to Anne Graybeal and Anne Stavney.” Course proposals have to outline the goals and curriculum of the course but most importantly the proposals are meant to defend how this new course will fill a gap that exists in the department’s course offerings. The new course “Advanced Topics Research” aimed to do exactly that. 


The course’s teachers, Beth Calderone and David Zalk ’66 both noted that there has been an uptick in the amount of students requesting to do independent studies. Zalk says the goal of the class is to “provide a more structured way for students to do independent study and yet would also have scheduled advice from faculty.” Calderone echoes this sentiment and explains that the class was also needed because, “in academics, nothing is truly independent. Scholarship happens in community. Giving and receiving feedback from each other in our work is a really important part of independent study.” The new “Advanced Research Topics” course gives students the opportunity to do independent research but in a peer and advisor feedback environment. 


One of the most popular new course offerings is Holocaust and Genocide Studies, taught by social studies teacher Mackenzie McIlmail. McIlmail was surprised by the popularity, saying, “When I proposed the course I honestly thought no one would sign up for it because it’s kind of a dark subject, and I was really pleasantly surprised we filled 3 sections.” McIlmail and the social studies department proposed the course for multiple reasons, one of them being the news that the eighth grade Holocaust history unit was being phased out. McIlmail proposed the course around the time Russia invaded Ukraine. She recalls this time, stating, “my first thought as a historian was that this is going to be really bad for the people who are already vulnerable in Ukraine.” Mcilmail also provided insight into her responsibility as an educator saying that “it felt like students kept approaching me about these issues. They wanted to learn more about them and as a teacher I think one of the most important things we can do is educate students about issues of human rights and justice and our personal responsibilities as global citizens.” Currently taking the course is Ellie Schifman ‘24, and while she says “it’s kind of a lot of work,” she also finds the course “really interesting.” She decided to take the class because “to prevent genocides from happening again, it’s important to talk about them.” Coincidentally this course is very discussion based. So far, all of the new courses seem to be a valuable addition to learning and a hit with students.