Amherst Regional High School unveils new course offerings for next fall

  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, January 03, 2022

AMHERST — Disability justice literature, fiber arts and introduction to dance featuring hip hop, house and locking are among new courses expected to be taught at Amherst Regional High School next fall.

The offerings, developed by eight teachers, were approved earlier this month in a unanimous vote by the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee.

Superintendent Michael Morris said the courses fit the goal at the high school to provide students a deeper understanding of the world around them.

But Morris cautioned that the creativity of teachers can only happen if there is a budget to support their initiatives, noting that Amherst is in a competitive marketplace for exhibiting the talents of its educators. Morris said the budget will largely depend on the assessment method that will divvy up the payments that Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett will be responsible for.

As the budgets are built for the next school year, Morris said that will inform the possibility of having these new courses.

School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald said the mission is to support every learner, whatever their passion.

Amherst representative Peter Demling said he appreciates the variety of courses, and it is the duty for committee members to promote and support a budget that will allow them.

“It’s about meeting students where they are, and contouring our offerings to those students,” Demling said.

The disability justice literature course is a five-year project for English Department head Sara Barber-Just. The 9-week, quarter-long elective for seniors will focus on reading disabled writers and activists and learning about critical historical moments, such as adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act and ending institutionalism.

Among the readings are “Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body” by Rebekah Taussig and “The Secret Life Of A Black Aspie” by Anand Prahlad. “It’s like really hearing from people themselves,” Barber-Just said.

Demling said the course is “kind of innovative” and wondered whether some parts could be integrated into the regular curriculum.

Art teacher Kristen Ripley is putting together a fiber arts course that she hopes will engage students and add to their art-making repertoire.

As a fiber artist herself, Pelham representative Margaret Stancer said the course will be terrific to have at the school.

New dance teacher Remy Fernandez O’Brien said the dance program will study the history, culture and social activism of hip hop, house and locking.

“Having a course like this shows that dance is for everyone,” Fernandez O’Brien said.

A one-semester course “Engineering for Social Good” will be taught by John Fabel as part of the need for more advanced technology offerings. “Out of Poverty” by Paul Polak will be the primary text.

Other new courses include two physical education electives, “Net, Wall and Target Games” and “Foundations of Personal Fitness,” a one-quarter course in “Advanced Robotics” that will use the $5,000 in the VEX robotics equipment already at the school, and a new Advanced Chemistry Honors course.

The development of the courses comes as the high school continues to use a “4 by 4” block schedule, with four classes in the fall and four classes in the spring, instead of the previous “7 drop 1” schedule in which students took seven courses at a time, but one course was not taught each day.

While the school committees don’t typically get a say in classes taught at the middle school and the elementary schools, Morris said the high school courses need to be approved since they can veer into controversial topics.

More new courses are also being introduced in 2022 than in a normal year. “This is a higher number of new courses,” Morris said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.