For one week, in between trimesters, students at Nativity School in El Monte put aside their academic books and discovered new avenues for learning.
Middle school students discovered the chemistry in cooking, the biology of gardening and the discipline of boot camp style exercise. Young students explored drama, got lessons in the basics of Spanish, investigated ways to eat healthier and learned how to play a musical instrument.
Elective Week was a time for the 225 Nativity students to challenge themselves in other arenas of learning, offering them engaging and intellectually stimulating activities, says Sister of St. Louis Stacy Reineman, principal. “We wanted to expose kids to different experiences and we have teachers who used their talents and time to make this a wonderful week for everyone,” she explains.
The idea for Elective Week came last year when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles strongly encouraged elementary schools to add 20 days to their school calendars. Nativity added 10 days to this school year with plans of adding more in the years to come.
Previously, however, students at Nativity had one elective hour a week because of adding minutes to each school day to achieve that extra time. Students would spend an hour exploring calligraphy, photography and even knitting. But when schools were asked to increase their math time, that elective period disappeared for Nativity students.
But since Nativity added days into the schedule this year, Sister Reineman decided to use five of those days as a return to electives where teachers offer different educational servings. (Sister Reineman presented a popular class in photography.) Middle school students had options throughout the day, while the lower classmen stayed together as a class and rotated through various subjects.
Eighth-grader Steven Nava thought baking would be an easy — and just for girls. “It wasn’t easy, but it was fun,” he says about learning to make muffins, rolls and coffee cakes which were later sold to his fellow students. The $124 raised from the bake sale was donated to the Holy Childhood Association.
Eighth-grader Darrian Gardea was thrilled to spend a week studying the science behind rockets. “After all the hard work of making the rocket, we finally got to launch it and see what they could do,” he says.
Aaron Rodriguez stretched out to yoga, Trizia Castillo took up gardening and Dayanara Rincon joined fellow students in creating and painting a large colorful map of the United States on the school grounds. Eighth grader Richard Williams practiced virtual dissections and learned about the human body in anatomy class.
One of the more talked-about courses was the Egg-cellent science class where students built egg protractors, egg catapults and performed other egg-related experiments. “This is the most fun I ever had with science,” says seventh-grader Mya Griego.
Younger students were thrilled to rotate classes and subjects, “just like the older kids,” says third grader Trish Duong. “It was exciting.” Her friend Nicole Pham enjoyed drama and hopes that next year “we could see someone else’s play or make up our own!”
It wasn’t just the students who relished in the eclectic offerings of the week; the teachers and parents were also happy to have a little wiggle room when it comes to teaching. Numerous parents have either told or sent Sister Reineman messages thanking her for organizing the week and giving their children new perspectives on the world around them. Sister Reineman also received a text from a teacher at the end of Electives Week who said the joy and fun of the week “made [her] want to cry.”
For teachers, like coach James Gonzales, Elective Week meant sharing experiences with his students. Since he just finished his boot camp experience as entrance in the Marine Corp Reserves, Gonzales offered up a similar class — complete with formation runs, drills, and calisthenics.
“The kids loved challenging themselves to see how far they could push themselves,” he says. “But I think the hardest thing for them was standing still and not moving. That took discipline!”
Perhaps the best critique of Electives Week came from a fourth-grade student who presented Sister Reinemen with a terrible dilemma. “He has always set his heart on becoming a football player when he grew up,” she says. “But he took a drama class and realized that he liked that, too. ‘Sister,’ he said to me. ‘Now I want to grow up and do drama but I still want to play football! I don’t know what to do!’”
Sister Reineman smiled and told the student: “Well, maybe you could do both.”