We interviewed Tree of Life International School Academic Director, Angela Jarman about the Electives and the philosophy that inspires them.
Specific Focus in Electives
When did electives start?
We used to have regular classes of music, art, PE, drama and tech for all students, from preschool until grade 11. However, we noticed as students got closer to their graduation, their interests sometimes narrowed, sometimes broadened. They wanted to try more, or go deeper. So in 2019, we tried offering a range of classes in these broad subject areas, but with a specific focus. For example, instead of Technology, we offered Graphic Design, Computer Science and Video Game Programming. Instead of Art, we offered Crochet, Art & Design and Creative Writing. Instead of Drama, we offered Model United Nations (MUN) and Acting for TV. And so on. We covered the subject area, but the specific focus was left up to the teacher who saw the elective as something fun to teach. We made a catalogue of these offerings and opened it up to our students to choose.
It’s interesting to see that the classes are shared across high school, mixing grade 11s with grade 8s.
True. To make it possible to give such a variety of classes, we combined our classes starting in Grade 8. This allowed students to get to know their younger and older peers in special interest classes, which had an added bonus – it built community. We have seen good friendships established during electives that spill over into camp, recess, lunch.
How many elective classes are there?
Now, each semester our SR students get to choose 2 electives, and our JR2 students get to choose 3 electives. When we originally began offering electives, we made available six classes, so students had more choice. However, we noticed that students also needed some extra guidance with classes like Taboo, College & Careers and Exam Prep. We also found that 4 science classes weren’t enough to be able to teach the extended levels of Chemistry, Biology and Physics.
Discover your Interests
What is the purpose for including Electives in the secondary school curricula? What is the goal of these subjects?
It goes back to the fact that students have different interests – some are more excited about art, others are interested in strategies, abstract thinking. Others haven’t yet discovered their interests. Electives push open doors to new areas, like Jim Bickford’s Data Analysis, offered for the first time this semester.
Are electives ever offered, but don’t get enough interest?
All the time. Not all electives “take”. For example, we offered an elective for basketball, volleyball or musical theater in one of the last semesters, and there wasn’t any interest. This happens sometimes. The minimum for a class is 8 students, but sometimes an elective will go ahead anyway, with fewer students, like the band elective this semester.
Explore Future Careers
Can students repeat electives?
No, not in the same year. This is because electives are geared to opening new horizons, trying new things. However, there is always an exception and a reason for that exception. Computer Science, MATEM and Model United Nations (MUN) all permit students to repeat during the same year, because the subject matter requires longer study and preparation.
Why does the school offer Independent Living as an elective?
Independent Living covers a range of skills, from cooking, ironing and self-care, to customer service, budgets, car mechanics and first-aid. Practical skills are important for students to gain confidence and take on greater responsibilities. Students also gain experience working at participating businesses, like Picnic, or work with mentors in their area of interest, exploring possible future careers. This semester, one student is working as an understudy with a Tree of Life parent who is both a veterinarian for horses, and competes in equestrian events.
What is one of the new electives offered this semester?
For the first time, students can earn community service hours during school, as they teach science to students at La Carpio. Students leave from Tree of Life at 7:50am and return by 10:30am. While at La Carpio, they help children from the local community review their science assignments, and show them how to complete different experiments.
By Angela Jarman
Photographs by Leandro Natale