Drama. Band. Academic Decathlon. All three subjects are among the list of disappearing electives at high schools in the Lodi area. The culprit? Either shrinking budgets or shrinking class sizes.
But for some, electives are the only classes they look forward to during their school day.
Tessa Reynolds, a 2009 Lodi Unified School District graduate, says that electives take the academic pressure off of students. For her, art was a chance to have fun and be more creative than her math courses allowed her to be.
"I believe that electives like art help students who have ADD/ADHS. For students who struggle with this, art is a way to get what they are daydreaming about onto paper," she said. "If LUSD cuts these programs, we won't ever know if we have our next Michelangelo."
The 440-plus pink slips that went out last week to Lodi Unified teachers included subjects such as music, art, video production, industrial arts and home economics. Those account for classes at both the middle and high school levels.
Among the 14 positions eliminated by the Galt Joint Union High School District board last month was the only full-time teaching position in the drama department. If James Nunes makes the final cut in May, the drama program in Galt will be eliminated after nearly 100 years, and drama classes will not be offered until money can be found in the budget to sustain the position's salary again.
But his story is being played out everywhere.
That district's health careers classes are also in jeopardy due to lack of funding, and both German and woodshop could be eliminated in the budget for next year.
The latter program took center stage last year in Lodi Unified when Tokay High School woodshop teacher Mike Murphy planned to file a grand jury complaint to save elective classes such as his.
Lodi High School dumped its newspaper and corresponding elective class this school year, claiming it was due to low student sign-ups and waning interest.
Districtwide, 174 fewer elective classes were offered this school year, compared to 1,611 in 2008-09, according to figures provided by the curriculum department. McNair High School was hit the hardest, with close to 100 fewer electives.
Lexie Reynolds, who graduated from Lodi High School in 2006 and is Tessa Reynold's sister, also fondly remembers her art class. "It put academics on hold for 45 minutes, which is much needed in the days of teaching to the state standards. Working away at projects was a stress relief. It lifted moods and was just plain fun," she said.
Like some of her peers, she has moved forward with an art-related career choice because of being inspired and encouraged by elective teachers such as Tom Nardinelli at Lodi High.
"So what is LUSD saying? That those students who, like myself, may be a square peg should be pounded and hammered into that round hole?" she asked. "We are not made to all fit one cookie-cutter shape."
Nationwide, study after study shows how important a well-rounded high school education is not only in applying for college, but in preparing students for the real world. Many experiment with elective courses to see if the subject might interest them as a career.
Galt teachers' union president Alex Bauer is concerned about what the lack of electives will do to students' schedules come fall.
"Galt High School already has 188 students sitting in non-academic teacher assistant classes," he said. "How will we serve our students next year with the reduction in these elective classes? With more TA slots in student schedules? This is no way to prepare our students for the 21st century."
|Number of elective classes offered|
|Source: Lodi Unified School District|
Some elective courses are academic-based.
The Lodi school board voted last month to essentially cut Lodi High's winning Academic Decathlon program unless money can be found in the budget. The team just returned from the state championships as the only team to represent San Joaquin County.
"I hope our program is saved," adviser Jeff Palmquist said, adding that many of this year's top students plan to return next school year. "Right now, the priority is to save the academic core classes, so many electives are at risk. Nobody wants to see electives disappear, but something has to give."
Although senior Joshua Gums' speech and debate elective course isn't currently on the chopping block for fall, he feels administrator salaries should be cut before certain classes.
"I believe that the district obviously has to make cuts to balance their budget, and that the first place that these cuts should come from is administration," he said, before adding that he understands some classes might have to go.
"I don't see (taking away electives) impacting the school that much, other than it makes it less fun and engaging to go to school. While this is a bad thing, it is not necessarily the be-all-end-all reason that kids go to high school," he said. "While it certainly wouldn't be fun to have a schedule without electives, regrettably, sometimes sacrifices must be made."
In the end, Bauer was not surprised by the Galt high school district's unanimous vote to lay off some teachers who teach electives. He is instead frustrated that the board in December approved a $2 million building loan, then issued 14 teacher pink slips last week.
"Some board members preach that it is all about programs," he said. "Well, no program can exist without a strong teacher at the helm. These things don't run themselves."