The Byram Hills community is always asking, “What will it take for its students to be productive and responsible citizens of the 21st Century?” It has recently become more apparent that the world is more interconnected and interdependent. To continue to prepare students, the high school faculty has started to create new courses focused on interdisciplinary learning.
Teachers have collaborated to combine elements from traditional courses, such as English, Art+Design, and Social Studies. This holistic approach weaves together topics from different content areas in a way that has tangible, real-world applications.
Multimedia Journalism focuses on writing skills, editing, web and print design, podcasting, storytelling, ethics, and privacy. “We wanted to give more choices in the English curriculum in addition to grade-level and advanced placement courses,” said Duane Smith, Byram Hills English Chairperson. “This course was cemented by the idea of an authentic experience for students.” The most significant responsibilities are producing the yearbook (The Arch) and providing newspaper content (The Oracle). The advisors were already in place, making it the perfect fit. Teachers, Catherine Eshoo, English/Oracle Advisor, and Amy Menasche, Art/Arch Advisor, knew their skill sets would complement each other and spent the summer collaborating and developing the class.
“I like that this class allows me to express my creative side and that there are no strict rubrics to follow,” said Matthew Quintiere, Byram Hills senior. Unlike most traditional writing or English courses, Multimedia Journalism allows students a unique opportunity to write creatively for different audiences. “Students choose their topic and article style from club profiles to sports stories and conduct interviews in person, through email, or by phone,” said Ms. Eshoo. “They are fully entrenched in the writing process and learning the value of revisions.”
Breaking away from the conventional educational style, and exposing students to real-world skills and challenges is among the top priorities of these courses. “Students will always need to be good communicators, well-organized, and have the courage to approach people, which will transfer to any future job,” said Ms. Menasche.
Another new interdisciplinary class, Race, Class, and Culture, aims to combine English and social studies components to deepen the understanding and perspective toward other cultures. Co-taught by social studies teacher, Mr. Ruben Torres, and English teacher, Ms. Jessica Shaw, the class studies literature and history and models a college freshman humanities seminar. “We had the opportunity to visit other schools that were offering similar classes,” said Ms. Shaw. “Then, we spent a year creating the class to offer students an exceptional educational experience.” There is so much content to draw from, past and present, making the class very timely.
“We cover things more expansively than in Regents History, and I think the students appreciate that,” said Mr. Torres. “We are not on a quest to rush through content.” The discussion-based class begins with teaching students what respectful discourse looks like. They work on ways to approach emotional and passionate topics, generate productive conversations and handle opposing views. “I am thankful for how this class opened my mind and taught me that it is okay to respectfully have a different opinion than my classmates, without either of us being wrong,” said Byram Hills senior, Drew Siskin.
Teachers set aside time for “hot topics” where students propose current events and vote on what to discuss for critical takeaways. Students choose an issue that compels them and then write an argumentative paper reflecting their perspective. “The teachers made this class fascinating by using current events and pop culture to spice up their lessons and keep us engaged,” said Drew Siskin.
Offering unique and relevant classes that students are excited and motivated about fosters a love of learning. Byram Hills has successfully introduced two interdisciplinary courses this year that teachers will tweak and expand upon in the coming years.