Disclaimer: All information below regarding course offerings is provided in the course catalog or was taken from administration members, counselors, and department chairs.
Recently, MSJ’s Social Science Department announced the creation of the History in Film course to be taught by US History Teacher Toby Remmers in the upcoming academic year. This is one of the new courses premiering in MSJ’s course offerings in the past few years. To learn more about course changes, the Smoke Signal logged the history of alterations made to MSJ’s course list and compiled student opinions on these changes.
The process that goes into revising the school’s course list is multifaceted in that department chairs and administration members consider a variety of factors, including teacher credentialing, student interest, and district budgeting. Student registration forms allow them to gauge interest in each course and make provisions for the next academic year accordingly. “The number one factor is always teacher credentialing. So … teachers have to have proper credentials in order to offer certain classes. And then for number two, it goes back to what you guys sign up for,” Assistant Principal Jeana Nightengale said.
After course registration packets give MSJ administration members a better understanding of student interest, Principal Jeff Evans and Nightengale meet with FUSD’s budget division to discuss the next year’s enrollment and budget projections. They then finalize the courses and number of class sections for each course that MSJ will offer in the next year.
View full course offerings for each department on the FUSD course catalog.
Click the links below to jump directly to each section.
The 2021-22 school year will, with enough enrollment, see the return of the Creative Writing and Public Speaking courses for the English Department. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can take these two one-semester elective courses in conjunction.
A few years ago, MSJ stopped offering the Creative Writing and Public Speaking courses, along with the Drama I-IV classes within the English Department due to declining enrollment, according to English Dept. Co-chair Tiffany Stelle-Billman. However, Stelle-Billman hopes that the Creative Writing and Public Speaking courses will garner more interest this year as students look for more elective options. “I think we’re seeing more of a shift to students wanting different elective options and wanting to explore different things to help balance their schedule and help with their mental health to do something creative and fun, and Creative Writing and Public Speaking is just that,” Stelle-Billman said.
Though the department is reintroducing the Public Speaking and Creative Writing courses, the drama classes will not be making a return in the near future. However, MSJ Universal Performers, MSJ’s drama club, still hosts weekly meetings where they prepare for upcoming shows and competitions, have improv sessions, or play fun theatre games.
Other schools in FUSD offer AP English Language and Composition to juniors, but MSJ does not offer this course, as the school doesn’t currently have a teacher willing to teach it, according to Stelle-Billman. Instead, MSJ’s English 11 Honors course is effectively a pre-AP course to AP English Literature and Composition and also carries an extra weighted point to compensate.
In 2010, the State of California adopted a new Common Core Standard: students must take Algebra 1 as freshmen, Geometry as sophomores, Algebra 2/Trigonometry as juniors, and Precalculus as seniors. The Fremont community largely felt this decision was a setback, as prior to this standard, students took Algebra 1 a year earlier. They wanted to keep the original pathway allowing their children to take Calculus in high school. Math Dept. Chair Scott Sugden said, “The board also wanted an accelerated pathway because we have some really exceptional kids that [the new Common Core standard] would hold back.”
Taking these opinions into consideration, the Math Curriculum Council, which consists of all the department chairs of all the high schools and middle schools, convened to brainstorm ideas to successfully implement the change in 2014. The board eventually agreed to an accelerated pathway where students would reach Calculus as juniors. They would take Geometry for the first semester of freshman year and Algebra 2/Trigonometry for the second, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry/Precalculus as sophomores.
“I personally don’t think that’s the best way to do things … You should be taking [math] at a pace where you could go in depth … My preferred pathway for students is to take Geometry in 9th grade, Algebra 2/Trigonometry in 10th grade, Precalculus in 11th grade and Calculus their senior year … Taking Calculus in high school is a great accomplishment that only 15% of students in the United States do,” Sugden said.
Although MSJ briefly adopted a pathway where students who took Algebra 1 as freshmen could concurrently take Geometry and Algebra 2/Trigonometry in their sophomore years, Principal Jeff Evans said, “To be inline with the rest of the district and with the option of acceleration available we will limit sophomores to one math class next year.” Other courses such as Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, Intro to C++, and Discrete Math are dual credit courses with Ohlone College that are also only offered at MSJ because of the substantial number of eligible MSJ juniors who complete AP Calculus BC.
Looking forward, Sugden said upcoming changes will center around the conversion of Hopkins Junior High School to a middle school. The pathways will look significantly different because students can now be accelerated beginning in sixth grade.
In 2013, the CA State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which hoped to emphasize more student-centered instruction and learning, grant more attention to science and engineering concepts, and ensure that the earth and space, chemistry, physics, and biology standards are taught to all students.
As a result, the Science Department had to adapt earth science content into the existing Biology, Chemistry, and Physics courses. Prior to 2018, Biology and Honors Biology were available to freshmen, and the curriculum within these classes was already quite similar to the new Living Earth course according to Science Teacher Lane Melcic. In 2018, Physics in the Universe and Living Earth were officially introduced at MSJ for freshmen and combined earth science concepts into the existing physics or biology curriculums, respectively. According to Melcic, these courses replaced the two biology courses as well as NGSS 1, which was a precursor course for the Physics in the Universe course offered in 2017.
Based on previous course catalogs, in 2020, Chemistry of Earth Systems and Chemistry of Earth Systems Honors, offered to sophomores and juniors, replaced the Chemistry and Chemistry Honors courses at MSJ by offering more earth science content to replace much of the second semester’s chemistry content.
The NGSS pathway originally intended for freshmen who took Physics in the Universe to take Living Earth or Living Earth Honors in sophomore year and Chemistry of Earth Systems or its honors variant as juniors. However, according to Melcic in 2019, the State clarified that only physics-credentialed teachers could teach Physics in the Universe. Due to the lack of such teachers at MSJ and declining enrollment from students realizing they were effectively a year behind their peers in terms of available classes, the department removed Physics in the Universe from the curriculum in 2019 and phased out Living Earth Honors in the following year.
According to the NGSS pathway, all freshmen are now required to take Living Earth and now have the choice between Chemistry of Earth Systems or the honors variant as sophomores. There will be no immediate changes to this pathway for the next school year according to Science Dept. Chair Sai Kumar, though newly imposed prerequisites for Living Earth may force some students to take a reintroduced Physics in the Universe Course according to Melcic.
The most notable upcoming change to the Social Science Department is the introduction of a new film class, but the Social Science Department has also seen many changes in recent years.
In response to students wanting more rigorous social science electives, the department introduced AP World History in 2009 and AP Human Geography in 2013. Due to declining enrollment, the department removed electives such as Ethnic Studies and CP Psychology from the course catalog in the past few years. In 2017, the Social Science Department began offering Women’s Studies and Civics “as an opportunity to provide students with curriculum that is absent from their core classes,” Social Science Dept. Chair Jeff Alves said.
According to Alves, in 2015, teachers felt there was a lack of civic education, so then Alves “spent the summer creating the curriculum and was able to get it approved by the College Board during the next school year.” Since Geography did not have A-G approval, it was replaced by Civics. “Taking Civics also makes Fremont students more competitive for college applications. For example, over the past decade Harvard has been reexamining their admissions process and began looking to civic involvement as a factor,” Alves said.
Alves mentioned that the department has debated including more rigorous classes such as AP US Government and AP Economics as enrollment shows that MSJ students favor AP elective courses. However, “by offering Government and Economics, students are not overwhelmed or stressed by the demands of another AP course. This helps students to balance any other AP courses they wish to take senior year, including any of the three AP electives in our department,” Alves said.
US History Teacher Toby Remmers has been pushing to implement a film class at MSJ for the past couple of years. After recently getting approval for the course to fulfill elective requirements at UC and CSU schools, Remmers finalized his syllabus which includes analyzing the history of film, watching movies and discussing social movements that they portray, working on documentary & fictional narrative films, and possibly even submitting films to festivals. The class will be open to all grades, but the focus will be on juniors and seniors.
Two decades ago, a similar film class called Film in the 20th Century was taught at MSJ, but Remmers is now reintroducing it as History in Film. “One of the big changes that we decided to go through is making it more international in scope. So we’re going to be looking at films around the world and how the film movement started out in places like South Korea, or in India, or in China, or in Japan,” Remmers said.
Although MSJ students often feel pressured into taking STEM courses, Remmers’s goal with this class is to de-emphasize the standard ways of learning that require putting things on paper and allow students to explore film, which is a part of their everyday lives.
In the upcoming academic years, the World Language Department, which currently offers Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and French courses, will be phasing out the Japanese program due to declining enrollment among MSJ students and transfer students from the rest of the district. Next year, the school will be offering Japanese 3 and 4 for existing Japanese students, after which the program will be terminated, according to the World Language Dept. Chair Jill Evans. The department will also be offering a new Chinese 4 course meant to prepare Chinese 3 students for AP Chinese. Since students can currently enroll in five levels of Spanish and French, ranging from level one to the AP courses, this change will standardize the number of classes offered for each language program in the department. Evans hopes the addition will serve as a better stepping stone for Chinese 3 students planning to take AP Chinese. “A lot of students … were kind of in between level three and AP, and they weren’t quite ready for AP,” she said.
“We have a lot of heritage speakers of Chinese, and we wanted to place them according to where they needed to be and then there’s … non heritage speakers in Chinese, so we needed to figure out exactly where they were,” Evans said.
According to the Art Dept. Chair Jason Aucoin, “Typically the courses offered in the [Visual & Performing Arts] department do not change much from year to year. Occasionally the number of sections offered of a certain course (like Digital Imaging and Ceramics) fluctuate based on the number of sign-ups but those changes are minimal. The Art program remains consistent with sections of Art 1/2/3 and AP Studio Art. The Band/Orchestra program does not change from year to year and there are sections of Choir, Show Choir and AP Music Theory available to students each fall.”
The Mission Valley ROP (MVROP) program, which operates separately from FUSD, offers Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses to students from FUSD, the Newark Unified School District, and the New Haven Unified School District. Program coordinators decide on the number and type of courses offered based on instructors’ availability and student interest. On-site CTE courses offered at MSJ run for the duration of one regular class period, while courses offered at the MVROP site run for two class periods. For MSJ, these courses are open to juniors and seniors.
“I think we should have [AP English Language and Composition] as one of the courses. It was removed a few years back for more AP Science and math courses but I think having two options for AP English is better since we already have so many science/math courses.” – Diya Shah, 11
“While the [accelerated math] classes are understandably harder and more time-consuming, they are a great way to prepare for harder classes in junior/senior year and they provide a good challenge for many of the students at MSJ.” – Claris Chan, 10
“I think that extremely niche and relatively unpopular courses like Women’s Studies need not be offered. From my knowledge about the course preferences of our student body, Geography, [CP] Psychology and AP Econ/Gov are probably more popular courses and allocating resources to Women’s Studies while more in-demand courses aren’t even offered seems illogical. Although the curriculum seems exceptionally unique and beneficial for appreciating women’s past contributions in society, students opting for Women’s Studies probably intend to do so for enrichment purposes and Ohlone’s Early College Program has a very diverse list of courses pertaining to Gender Studies (Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies, Gender, Sexual Identity, and Communication, Women’s Health Issues, etc.).” — Chahak Gupta, 10
“The school board had well-meaning intentions when removing most AP courses for freshmen and sophomores (leaving only world languages and music theory for 10th graders to take and none available to freshmen), but the actions taken generally backfire in the competitive environment of MSJ. Many students end up taking classes outside of school in addition to their normal workload, or merely self-studying, which merely adds to the stress that the taken measures were supposed to reduce.” — Annie Xu, 9
“I believe there were good intentions when changing the science curriculum to NGSS, but there are some clear flaws in their implementation … It is unnecessary and even counterproductive to cut out important parts of biology and chemistry to accommodate a poorly structured earth science curriculum. I have been ‘taught’ earth science in 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, and these have essentially been repeats of one another. This is wasted time. From what I have seen of the current earth science curriculum in Chemistry of Earth Systems, not only is it far too short to delve into earth science in any meaningful way, but it also cuts time from the chemistry curriculum. I believe this was a well-intentioned change to make science more accessible, but I firmly believe this has done much more harm than good.” — Titus Tsai, 11
“I believe that the introduction of History in Film is a great addition to the pre-existing curriculum. Personally, I have always been interested in movies and would have definitely taken the course had it been available previously. I think that students mostly study and learn about books in English class, and it would have been nice to analyze and learn the history behind more movies as well, which this course seems to provide students the ability to do.” — Anish Kashyap, 12
Cover image by News Editor Alina Zeng