One reading the St. Mary’s course catalog leading up to this school year may have noticed new class names taught by familiar teachers. How did they come to be? And what can we expect?
Ms. Bielskis, pictured above, now teaches both sophomore English and a senior-only Women's Studies in Literature course.
With the new English system for upperclassmen, Ms. Bielskis is now teaching a seniors-only English elective called Honors Women’s Studies in Literature. Also new and open for seniors is Personal Finance, taught by Mrs. Loden.
“What does it mean to be a feminist?” Ms. Bielskis asks as one of the fundamental questions her women’s studies class will be tackling this year.
Bielskis has wanted to teach a women’s studies class at St. Mary’s for years and has finally gotten the opportunity to do so with the introduction and success of the new English elective system.
Bielskis believes that a women’s studies class is right at home at St. Mary’s given its academic rigor and long history as a school for girls. She said, “The only way to look ahead is to look behind.” Her class features texts that give insight into the place of women in society in the past, which she hopes will offer lessons for young women in the future.
Because of its nature as a senior-level class, Bielskis intends to teach the class on par with college level women’s studies classes, featuring sophisticated, advanced texts like “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. She looks forward to this opportunity to teach writing that “pushes the boundaries of all the ‘stuff’ that comes along with gender,” and hopes students will feel comfortable having in-depth conversations prompted by the texts.
Not to be overlooked, Bielskis said, is that every person is more than one label and that there is not one female story. The class will also explore intersectionality—what does it mean to be a black woman or a queer woman for example—and gender norms—of both men and women.
By popular demand, Mrs. Loden will now teach Personal Finance. The class came about after many graduating seniors told Dr. Steakley that they wished they had had a personal finance class. Dr. Stakem confirmed that the Academic Council—the committee formed by department chairs, administrators and college counselors— had also discussed the possibility of offering such a class for a long time, especially in light of the fact that many other independent schools already offered a similar course.
Loden called this year “a golden opportunity” for the inaugural personal finance class because of the choices many seniors made in scheduling their math electives. Many chose to take AP Statistics instead of Honors Intro to Statistics, leaving a semester open for the semester-long personal finance class.
In formulating her curriculum, Loden turned to personal finance evangelist Dave Ramsey’s company and their Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum. Combining this tried-and-true curriculum and her passion for personal finance, Loden expects to cover a diverse range of topics vital to growing up and dealing with money.
The class-approval process was simple. Loden met with Steakley and Dr. Leathers, who oversees curriculum, and received their approval. The Academic Council approved the course, so Stakem began offering it to students planning their senior year schedules. (Bielskis went through the same process for women’s studies.)
Loden said her goal for the class is to inform seniors about what to expect upon entering college and then the “real world.” In particular, she wants students to have all the information necessary to make smart decisions about credit cards and debt.
Loden said the class will also teach the nuts and bolts of budgeting and saving and “tip the iceberg” of taxes, mortgages, investing and retirement, so that students will at least have a basic understanding of the decisions they will have to make in the future.
“Toward the end of the course, we will even discuss money and relationships, especially when you and your partner disagree about money. Or maybe your roommate … if you came from different backgrounds,” Loden said.
Personal finance will equip students not only to handle their own finances but the important—and not often taught—skill of making financial decisions with someone else.
While the ways in which they came about are different, both classes will bring something new to St. Mary’s students.
Insight for new classes comes from teachers themselves, allowing them to propose classes they are passionate about, and from students and parents. The administration and Academic Council also pay attention to what other independent schools are offering to make sure St. Mary’s is offering the courses students need and want.
All of this means new opportunities for St. Mary’s, an ongoing process overseen by the Academic Council. Stakem stressed that the curriculum is evaluated anew every fall, and thus, is subject to change.
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