Impact Stories

  • Michelle Colaco

Electives Feed The Soul

Electives are all the more important to maintain during distance learning when there is not only more time to create, but perhaps a greater need for creative outlets. They are a “refreshment” in their day, where students can take a break and enjoy. ​Learn about the importance of Stanley electives from Principal Betsy Balmat.

LPIE volunteer Michele Colaco recently caught up with Stanley Principal, Betsy Balmat, to discuss the importance of electives in middle school education, especially during distance learning. LPIE is proud to provide Stanley the financial support needed to offer an array of elective courses.

What benefits do electives provide students? Elective courses offer moments where students get to explore and possibly discover new interests or skills they didn’t know they have. Electives provide creative outlets, and can offer a stress relief during the day for some kids who might struggle with academic courses. Electives are essential programs, they are not “extras.” They feed the soul and open the door to things our students may not have otherwise been exposed to.

Why are electives especially important in middle school education? In high school, there is more pressure to focus on caseload and credits. But in middle school, students have more freedom to dabble and try new things. This is the perfect time to take a new elective, or even try the Stanley Wheel class where students rotate through a sampling of elective options, and then select specific courses to specialize in the following year.

What role do electives play in distance learning? Electives are all the more important to maintain during distance learning when there is not only more time to create, but perhaps a greater need for creative outlets. These courses provide so many opportunities for the students and we’ve seen fantastic expressions of kids’ creativity. They are a “refreshment” in their day, where students can take a break and enjoy.

Has Stanley’s elective choices changed with distance learning? Stanley has maintained all elective classes during distance learning because we consider them to be essential programs. Our ability to offer rich elective class experiences during DL is largely due to the creativity of our faculty and the financial support from LPIE.

What elective courses does Stanley offer? Stanley offers more than 20 different elective choices. Course options include: four world languages (French, German, Spanish and Mandarin) plus three music selections (Band, Orchestra/Strings and Chorus) with the option to join the award winning Stanley Jazz Bands.

Stanley also offers Engineering/Robotics, Imagineering/Makerspace, Art, Woodshop, and Home Economics, plus Leadership, Yearbook, three Teacher’s Aide options and Peer Tutoring. And finally there is the ever popular Wheel class, where students rotate through five different sessions, getting a solid introduction to Stanley’s core elective options.

Does Stanley offer any additional support classes for students? In addition, Stanley offers a handful of Intervention Courses that may be recommended for students in need of support in order to achieve academic success. Intervention courses include: Language Arts/Math Skills, Math Support, English Language Development, and Realizing Academic and Personal Potential (RAPP, a course focused on organization, study skills, time management, etc.).

How are electives being taught in the distance learning environment? Elective teachers have a significant challenge in adapting to distance learning. Their focus is on maintaining the objectives of the course while working within the constraints of what they can pull off on a digital platform. Teachers are starting the courses with more design thinking and a focus on tools and materials and then creation. Students are asked to focus on what they want to design and then are challenged to find creative ways they could create it using materials they may already have at home (e.g, cardboard, pantry supplies, etc.).

Can you share some examples of how elective courses have adapted to distance learning? For example, in Home Economics the teacher provides a demo over Zoom and then the students have the opportunity to experiment and create in their own kitchens at home. In Art, the students are introduced to online tools, such as CAD-like drawings used in architecture, to design their dream homes. Woodshop students are challenged to be creative with various mediums and tools they may have at home. They are currently making CO2 cars at home using supplies distributed by Stanley.

How are students getting the supplies they need for elective courses? Teachers have organized supply kits for each of the courses. These supplies were recently distributed via curbside-pick at the front of Stanley. Examples of supply kits include Home Ec ingredients, Woodshop supplies, Art tools, Musical Instruments and World Language workbooks. This process will continue throughout distance learning.

How does LPIE support electives at Stanley? Donations to LPIE provide over $500,000 of support to our students through electives. This funds the personnel time for 24 of 34 elective classes as well as supplies for these incredible

courses. LPIE funding is crucial to continuing to offer these essential courses to our middle school students.