Hybrid senior class introduced to AHS


Emma Stewart, Opinion Editor

It all began one sunny afternoon four years ago. Environmental science teacher Mike Todd was out with the Garden Club tending to the plants, when in rode English teacher Joe Brekke exclaiming, “Oh man, I’ve got something here!” Brekke had recently visited Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts and found that other schools were studying Science, English, and Social Studies combined – an integrated study of how the three classes relate to each other. The pair went to Sociology teacher Chad Zmolek in hopes of sparking a new way of learning here at Ames High, and found that Zmolek had wanted to start a class like it for 20 years. And thus, the Integrated Capstone Seminar was born.

The idea certainly didn’t take off right away. After initially being turned down by Spence, Brekke, Todd, and Zmolek continued to meet up and build upon their vision. “It took some time because, through communicating and brainstorming with each other, we started realizing we were attempting to do the same things, but we were falling short of where we wanted to take it,” said Zmolek of the teachers’ current classes. The idea was this: to combine Environmental Science, English, and Sociology together into one single class. “I think all those classes have more meaning together than they do separately,” said Todd, “[and] that’s what we want for our students.” In high school, students have to switch modes at least 5 times a day to keep up the with the constant demands of different classes. Fortunately, the Integrated Capstone Seminar aims to change that. 
 “Our brains don’t think the way that school is structured….one of the aims [of the class] is to honor the way we learn – in an integrated way,” Brekke explained.

So, what is the class and how will it work? As the three explained, the combined class will span over three class periods, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, allowing time for field trips and further investigation into the topics the class covers. “I mean, how many nice days are you stuck inside going ‘I wish I could be outside?’ We feel that way too,” Brekke said, “There’s research that says the more time you spend outside, the happier you are; and the happier you are the more learning you do.” More time in the real world and less time isolated in the classroom is one of the major goals of this new class and a unique way it separates itself from previously offered classes in the school. The Integrated Capstone Seminar also gives students the chance to share what they’ve worked on with the community.

You may be wondering how there will be enough time for all of this to work out, or maybe how this class will affect your grades? Grade-wise, students will receive one grade for the entire class that will count for three different classes. For example, if you receive a B overall in the class, it will show up as a B for each of the three classes combined into the Integrated Capstone Seminar. Time-wise, the class has a duration of two and a half hours, enough time for students to dive deeper into a single project all in one class, instead of taking three separate classes with different projects.“ I want this to be seen as a way to alleviate stress. I feel as if a lot of our student body and staff are at a high level of stress from the juggling of all the different things you have try to manage in all the different classes,” Brekke commented on how having the expanded amount of time on one subject is beneficial to student life.

Not only should this class be a way of alleviating stress, but it also serves as a bridge between school life and the real world. “If you’re the student who asks ‘what does this have to do with my real life’, and that was always me growing up, we want this class to help you ask those questions. We want it to be immediately applicable to your life,” said Brekke. It’s an opportunity that most seniors need to get them interested in college and life beyond school.

Overall, the new Integrated Capstone Seminar offers a great opportunity for students to get involved and make an impact in our community. But, there really is only one way to sell you on this class, and that’s what Mr. Todd said about his students who are involved in the community now, an opportunity this class will offer: “It’s ongoing all the time with these students because it’s something they’re passionate about, they’re excited about, they’re going to leave a legacy [and] learn more than they ever would have in a class where you just sit there and take it all in.”