By Akhil Gunasekaran
Summit Public Schools, a public charter high school system, offers a program called “Expeditions”, courses that are an exciting alternative to your usual electives offered at traditional high schools. Rather than having one block in your daily schedule, Expeditions crunches that time into two-week blocks four times a year which focus solely on the elective. This allows students to experience unique courses like Video Production and Local Wilderness which would otherwise be unavailable at other schools.
However, in the last few years, the Expeditions Department seems to have declined both in quality and quantity of courses. So the question remains: what is the future of Expeditions?
My initial experience of Expeditions in 9th grade taking Video Production and Entrepreneurship was wonderful. In both courses, I met new classmates and was consistently engaged in the content. For instance, in my Video Production class, me and my peers filmed fighting scenes, PSAs, and music videos. The things we learned in the class, such as script writing and editing, were skills which we could apply to our daily lives.
By contrast, Expeditions courses in 10th grade were completely different. For one, the course offerings themselves were severely limited. Both courses I took in 9th grade were gone, along with many others such as Health and Fitness and Stage Combat.
Moreover, the diversity of courses was diminished. I was placed into International Human Rights and Consent and Power: two courses that were in reality incredibly similar. Both courses were essentially a part of the Social Justice branch, and taught about topics like the criminal justice system, and genocide of minorities around the world. Although these topics do seem interesting, the Expeditions team could have easily combined these two courses into a single offering.
The classes themselves were not as engaging as they were the previous year. In both courses, my peers and myself were often bored in class. We often went on our phones out of boredom, watched YouTube, and talked with each other about non-class-related topics.
When I asked other students why they chose to be in the class, many of them said that they never choose to be in the course: I was a part of this category as well. Both International Human Rights and Consent and Power were at the bottom of my expeditions preference survey, so getting into these courses baffled me. I attempted to switch into over five to six different courses, of which I was the first on the waitlist. To my surprise, I was denied from all waitlists. Why does Summit give students the option to switch out when requests are usually denied? Although Summit requires students to participate in at least one visual/performance arts (VPA) course, only one of the courses I requested to transfer to was considered a VPA.
In contrast, my 11th-grade experience of Expeditions was more mixed. Cooking Fundamentals was a breath of fresh air. Even though the course was on Zoom, we learned about important things like nutrition, dealing with knives, and putting out fires, as well as how to cook a variety of dishes. In fact, I even cook some of these dishes outside of class in my daily life.
Concrete Next Steps was yet another disappointment. As a required course for juniors last year, the intent of the course was to give students an opportunity to explore different life choices they could pursue in 12th grade, but it failed due to a multitude of issues. My teacher took over an hour to start the class, which often led to most of the people leaving by the time they got to the content. The content of the course itself was uninteresting. Most of the course focused on different life paths students could take, but this only pertained to a very select few groups of students, as most students would be applying to college. The college focus itself took a backseat. Instead, students in my class were encouraged to look past college, at opportunities such as GEDs and trade school, which directly contradicts the “apply to college!” zeal 12th graders experience.
In 12th grade, Expeditions themselves took a backseat. For the past few years, both the Summit and Expeditions team have encouraged seniors to endeavor on Independent Study courses, such as going to the gym and reporting on one’s mental health, and Internships. But why would the Expedition’s team continue to do this? Perhaps, it is because the Expeditions team knows that most Independent studies and Internships give students a lot of free time, which could be used to spend time applying to college. If this is the case, why not just give all twelfth graders all-day study-time? It’s clear that the Expeditions team lacked a vision and purpose for the 12th-grade curriculum this year.
So what should the Expeditions team do to improve the experience for newer Summit students? For one, the Expeditions team should work to improve the diversity of courses being offered. This would allow students to gain experience in unique career fields such as acting and filming. By making more Expeditions courses count towards GPA, and making said courses more rigorous, more students would take these courses seriously.
FEATURED IMAGE (at the top of this post): Summit Shasta welcomes its students back for the first round of in-person Expeditions since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. (PHOTO CREDIT: Evelyn Archibald)