OAKHURST – Good news out of Oak Creek Intermediate – kids are enrolled in creative classes and actively exploring electives outside the core curriculum, even in a time of excruciatingly limited resources.
How? Oak Creek Intermediate (OCI) teachers have developed a series of special classes designed to be appealing and exciting to students by tapping into some of the instructors’ favorite subjects.Principal Nicole White reports they’re now enjoying electives in the fields of language, strategy, drama, art, fitness, leadership, wilderness training and band.
Elective courses are taught four days a week (Mon. -Thurs.) in addition to required academics and physical education. Students can sign up for a different class each quarter, with the exception of language, which lasts throughout the year.
“The thought behind the electives was this: the economy had everyone down,” explains White, referring to the summer of 2012, as classes were being organized and budgets stripped bare in anticipation of further state-mandated cuts.
“There was no money to do cool stuff, and teachers felt a dark cloud looming as the district looked at furloughs and reduced budgets,” says White. “We wanted to strengthen our program in a way that students would understand, which means FUN, and we needed to do something about the overall gloomy mood and poor attendance issues.” It was clear everyone needed a boost.
White encouraged each teacher to focus on a passion or hobby they indulged in their personal time, with the intention of creating noteworthy electives around those preferred endeavors. The plan worked well.
“The resulting electives created a fun opportunity for students and a creative outlet for the teachers,” says White. “We have eight electives, taught first thing every morning, opposite the band elective. Band is taught by Randy Hyatt at Yosemite High School. The First Period electives keep band students from missing core studies while they’re off campus at YHS.”
El Profesor Erik Peterson, one of two 8th grade teachers, continues with Spanish as an elective, enabling students who pass the class to take Spanish 2 upon entering YHS.
6th grade teacher David Eicholtz heads up the Strategy class elective, open to all grades, using strategies to teach mathematics by building on math methods with game-centered activity.
“It is fun,” White says, “and students are exercising their ability to solve problems through play.”
Drama is taught by Bonnie Mills, who loves theater and also teaches 6th grade. Drama affords kids the chance to practice skits, learn improvisational skills, and put on a play for the whole school.
7th grade instructors Tim McGrew and Laurel Duckworth offer Art and Fitness, respectively.
“Mr. McGrew has a degree in art,” explains White. “He designed an art elective to share his expertise and help students create masterpieces using a variety of mediums at ‘Studio McGrew.'” The classroom now set aside for art was made available due to declining enrollment, another way in which the team at OCI has brought forth benefits from misfortune.
Mrs. Duckworth is known as one who incorporates fitness into her daily life, and can often be seen running in the Oakhurst area. Duckworth is also in charge of the OCI Running Club and Cross Country, according to White.
“It made sense that Mrs. Duckworth created an elective called Health and Fitness. Students are using computers to create daily food logs and learn about nutrition labels, finding fun ways to get their bodies moving and learning about healthy cooking, and other positive programs.”
Resource Specialist Program teacher Debra Carter designed an elective under the banner of Wilderness Youth Learning Dynamically (WYLD). Carter is an outdoor enthusiast and former EMT who hikes Yosemite frequently, says White.
“WYLD includes a mosaic of different activities, including survival training, first aid, orienteering, geo caching, star mapping and nature studies.”
8th grade teacher Rhiannon Dewey is the force behind the Leadership class. White notes that Leadership is in charge of “everything, including school dances, spirit days, and yearbook. Leadership hosted a Mountain Area Masquerade Ball and a Sadie Hawkins Neon Dance, among other dances and noontime events.”
Finally, OCI’s band elective is also collaborative, between the middle school and YHS. “The band students have been very busy this year performing alongside YHS students at the Winter Concert, Heritage Days Parade and OCI Assemblies,” says White.
Organizers of OCI electives report that all classes were developed without extra funds from an already-spent district budget, and the reception so far has been great.
“We didn’t hire a new teacher or build extra buildings,” adds White. “The talent and the resources were already available. This was very much an activity where we turned lemons into lemonade. The staff is very proud of the content-rich electives and the students are really excited about all the new things they’re learning.”
OCI’s ideas make for a well-balanced educational program, despite time and money constraints. The school is modeling ways to make the best of challenging circumstances, which may be the best lesson of all.
OCI is part of the Bass Lake Joint Unified School District and supports about 170 students in grades 6 – 7 – 8.