Each year, the unique selection of electives offered to Stuyvesant students presents fascinating classroom experiences not found at any other school. Students pray for years to be put in these classes. Though underclassmen are not typically given priority, they are free to scroll the list of available electives and find the ones that interest them most, in the hopes that when their programming priority is raised they may be granted a spot. However, many students have returned to the list as upperclassmen with a free period and a desire to fill it only to find that the class for which they have pined is no longer offered. Though some of these classes are merely put on hold for a year or two, others have less certain futures or are permanently removed from course listings.
These are the “dead” electives, those that the school could not find the resources to adequately run or fill. However, most of them still have a fighting chance at reincarnation.
Veterinary Medical Diagnosis
Pets are prone to illness just as often as humans, but specific study of animal illnesses is rare at the high school level. Until the 2009-2010 school year, Stuyvesant students could learn the basics of diagnosis and treatment for cats, dogs, and other small animals. This science elective, taught by former biology teacher Dr. Akinsegun Akintunde and still featured on the Stuyvesant High School website, focuses on “clinical manifestations of disease; infectious, neurological, cardiovascular, pulmonary and gastrointestinal diseases; and emergency medical care for small animals,” according to the Biology course list.
This class was offered until Spring 2009, when Dr. Akintunde retired after suffering a stroke. Dr. Akintunde had obtained his Ph.D in veterinary medicine; though former biology teacher Aimee Hill was able to take over the human-focused Medical Diagnosis elective he also taught (now taught by biology teacher Jerry Citron), no one was able to teach Veterinary Medical Diagnosis, and the elective has not been offered since.
From Virginia Woolf to Shahrnush Parsipur, some of the most influential writers of the last century have been those women who explored issues of sex and gender. Women’s Voices, taught by English teacher Annie Thoms, focused on discussing the work of notable women through the lens of students’ own views and experiences. This discussion-based class debated the validity and meaning of concepts such as those of the “women’s voice,” and explored issues of choice, censorship, and personal value in terms of the female experience. Writing assignments were often creative ones in which students were encouraged to display “emotional honesty [and] a willingness to take risks,” according to the course website.
The class is currently on hold because of an insufficient number of student sign-ups, and may not be taught next term because Thoms expects to go on maternity leave. The fate of the class depends on finding a suitable teacher to lead the class in Thoms’s absence, as well as on the number of students who show interest in taking the class.
Students of physics at Stuyvesant usually study matter in one of three forms: solid, liquid, or gas. But until 2007, students could elect to study the physics of plasma, a high-energy fundamental state of matter constituting universal elements such as stars. This introductory course focused on basic plasma equations, as well as methods such as magnetic confinement used to harness the power of plasma in a safe and controlled manner. The course, restricted to students who had already passed AP Physics B or C, included laboratory time dedicated to studying the methods of plasma experimentation and processing.
This course was discontinued in 2007, when then-physics-teacher Scott Thomas was appointed Interim Acting Assistant Principal of Physics and Chemistry (he now holds the official position of Assistant Principal of Physics and Chemistry) and was no longer able to teach either Plasma Physics or AP Physics as he had in previous years.
Ultimately, though the list of courses that would appeal to and enrich the lives of students is limited only by the imagination, it is impossible to garner the resources and interest necessary to justify and maintain a course for every idea. The courses that survive are those that can be supported financially, have an able and willing teacher at the ready, and generate enough student interest to fill a classroom.
However, just because an elective is put on hold does not mean that it will never return. Some cancelled electives are revived after a short period of time, such as Asian American Literature, taught by English teacher Sophie Oberfield. Others, such as the music department’s Songwriting elective, may lie in wait until they fade from the school’s collective memory. Regardless of the time spent off the course selection menu, any “dead” elective still has the chance to enrich the academic lives of a new class of students.