A New Sort of Classic: MFS English Department Takes Radical Shift

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Disclaimer: Debra Galler, Head of the English Department, is also one of WordsWorth’s faculty advisors, along with technology teacher Diana Day.

The MFS English Department may teach classics, but this year it has taken a sharp turn away from the traditional; announcements about new changes to the MFS English curriculum, to be put into place starting for the 2016-2017 school year, have left students excited and apprehensive in equal measure.

The changes, which most directly affect next year’s juniors and seniors, by extension change the curriculum at all levels of high school. Currently, students only have English classes with other students in their own grade—under the new system, juniors and seniors will sign up for mixed-grade classes focusing on various literary themes and topics, such as Contemporary Literature and The Supernatural and the Suppressed.

“We wanted to expand the Senior Seminar program and give all students more choice,” said Head of the English Department Debra Galler, speaking of the current English offerings for seniors. “The way the scheduling worked, integrating classes was the best way to do it. We also thought there were benefits to switching up the group of classmates that students have these [English class] discussions with, so it does not get stale.”

These seminar-style classes vary between honors and regular status, with all of them being only a semester long, allowing students to take two different English classes per year. The only exception to this rule is Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition, which will remain a senior-exclusive, all-year class.

Student reaction to these changes have been mixed, with both positive and negative reactions to nearly every aspect of the changes. Jess Ferber (‘17) expressed skepticism that mixed-grade classes will be a positive change, saying, “I think in a class like English where it’s discussion-based, it’s useful to be with people you’re more familiar with.”

Brad Geyer (‘17) questioned the need for the changes, calling them “unnecessary,” but nonetheless supported the idea of mixed-grade English classes. “I don’t have a problem with having class with juniors. . . I have that in Chemistry already.”

While many students remain skeptical of some or all of the changes, others clearly see the English Department’s logic. “I like it. It gives people more options earlier. I don’t mind the mixed classes” said Jacob Desman (‘17).

While the seminar classes will only be available to juniors and seniors, the change in upperclassmen classes will have ripple effects on the freshman and sophomore English curriculum, as different books are chosen in these early classes to accommodate the changes.

By pure coincidence, these changes to the English department come in concert with other changes to the MFS schedule for 2016-2017, including school starting five minutes earlier at 8:00, new religion-based course requirements, and an overhaul of the advisor system. “[The two changes happening simultaneously] wasn’t intentional,” said Galler, laughing. “It threw us off a little bit too, having it all at the same time. But maybe it’s better to get all the changes done at once, so people get used to them quickly.”

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