Open program makes strides towards expansion in the 2015-2016 school year


Key curriculum guidelines in the open program

Noura Abukhadra, Staff Writer

The Open program at South High is making strides towards expansion with the addition of two more teachers in the 2015-2016 school year.  According to Texas Tech University, a Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center, and several Open community members at South, Open philosophy means to examine the issues of diversity and social justice, gender, education, LGBTQI+ rights, civil rights, class, and religion throughout a multicultural curriculum across multiple courses. This philosophy of Open is exactly what the Open team plans on reflecting at South for new units this year.

With new teachers Ted Fabel and Macy Ashby in the Open program, the English and History departments had room for student growth.  The vast program expansion has allowed for the Open department to include new classes such as Social Justice taught by Robert Panning-Miller and African American History by Ashby. In addition to a Social Justice class, social justice themes are heavily implemented in almost every Open unit throughout the school year. The only challenge is making sure that those themes don’t stand in the way of connecting English, Science, and History curriculums.

Through changes put in place by the district, this year’s freshmen are no longer required to take Biology and Physics their first year and instead will take physical sciences, explained Michelle Ockman, Open English teacher. “It was much easier to mix World History and and World Lit with Biology than it is to mix it with Physical Sciences,” said Ockman. However, because of an increased amount of teachers, the Open team now has more sets of ears than ever before to bounce off ways to work out kinks in interdisciplinary teaching.

As a result of the new science requirements for ninth graders, the freshmen Open team work diligently to make sure these new curriculums line up. “Because we expanded the program, we spent a lot of time talking to each other this summer and getting the main themes down that we wanted to cover,” added Ockman. On top of summer meetings, the team makes constant efforts to gather as a whole group once a week.

The biggest difference between the Liberal Arts program at South and the Open program is that Liberal Arts leans towards traditional teaching with less flexible curriculums. The Open team bends each curriculum to fit student needs each school year, and generally choose what they teach more often. This allows for an emphasis on social justice and diversity as teachers see fit in their classrooms.

While the physical science teachers are not labeled as Open, they participate in interdisciplinary teaching and try and align their curriculum with the English and History departments as much as possible.

One challenge that the Open freshmen team is facing is trying to figure out how to adapt the evolution unit, which paired very well with biology, to physical sciences. “We changed from an evolutionary standpoint to the importance of stories and how we evolved as a society,” explained Ockman.

However, ninth grade Honors World History teacher Robert Panning-Miller expresses that it’s all about how much time they have. “It’s always [about finding] time to meet, if there is time, then you want to sit down all together,” said Panning-Miller.

He explained that sometimes, teaching his new social justice class may take away time from being apart of the Open team. “It’s great to be teaching that class again, I think it’s a class that should be a part of every curriculum. It’s not an exclusively Open thing, but certainly Open puts an emphasis on social justice throughout the curriculum,” Panning-Miller added.

Social justice continues to make an appearance in tenth grade throughout the year in units such as Power and Protest and Privilege. This year in U.S. Literature, they started off the year by discussing cultural myths in America.

A traditional aspect to the program is that each graduating class is known to have a community bond unique to Open. However, this may change for freshmen this year as Ockman and Panning-Miller no longer exclusively teach freshmen courses. While this gives way for new opportunities, Open program sophomores Lydia Zupanc and Caroline Haarman say that other than having more teachers and more classrooms, not much has changed for sophomores.

However, Haarman said, “I don’t know if it’s just the beginning of the year, but with the freshmen it feels like less of a community, maybe because it’s bigger.”  She goes on to explain that having all the same teachers allows for quick bonding with classmates.

Zupanc added, “In general, I think it felt more family-like last year.” While initial bonding may have been there last year, the biggest connections are made during the annual open trip to Eagle Bluff around early December, just before winter break.  Eagle Bluff is an environmental learning center located in Lanesboro. The freshmen are put into groups and go through several team bonding activities that foster trust and connections. The Open team spends three days total away from school and Open teachers recruit interested juniors and seniors in returning to be mentors to the current year’s freshmen.“I am sure it [the community feeling] will develop after Eagle Bluff,” continued Haarman.

Part of the reason for the community split is that the freshmen classes are being taught by two different teachers, Ockman and Ted Fabel. It is Fabel’s first year teaching in an Open program and he hopes to just get the units across departments aligned through co-planning by communicating with his colleagues.  As a new Open team member he describes really enjoying teaching open so far.“To me the Open philosophy means allowing for more student advocacy for themselves, for their credit, and what it is that they’re learning,” enthused Fabel.

The Open teachers get plenty of time to better themselves throughout the day as they regularly sit in on each other’s classroom lessons.  Ockman describes how with two prep periods for each teacher, they get the chance to learn from each other by different teaching styles, something they couldn’t do with just one prep hour last year. This gives room to improve lessons during the day instead of waiting for another school year to reattempt the same idea.

The last new thing coming soon to South is an Open capstone project. It has not yet been determined who will be teaching the social justice themed class, but it will be available for either an English credit, a Social Studies credit or an elective credit.

As a project, it will have a more independent aspect to it and students will work towards finishing an activist project by the end of the semester. Each activist project will have varying degrees of effects on a community that the student will choose to focus on. The class has been added to the catalogue but won’t be officially available for registration until the 2016-2017 school year. Both juniors and seniors will be able to take the course.

According to Mary Manor, Open English teacher, the class still needs to go through department chairs. Each department, Social Studies and English, will have to decide who is going to teach the class, and what other semester long class offered by that department will be available. “If it’s an English or Social Studies credit, there is a one semester elective class that won’t be taught because time would need to be taken to teach this class,” Manor explained.

While the scheduling details still need to be worked out, Manor added on a more upbeat note, “We [the open team] hoped it would be on the card for next year, the 2016-2017 school year.” Students who are interested and learn best through Open philosophy will most likely be able to register for the class this spring.