New courses incorporate Big Rocks into proposals

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

Four new courses, ‘The Science of Well-Being for Teens’, ‘Perspectives on Sports and American Culture’, ‘Leadership, Public Policy and You’ and ‘Queen City Studies’ are being introduced to Mason High School for the upcoming 2024-2025 school year. 

These courses went through an extensive approval process as they are required to fit the district’s three Big Rocks, Culture, Personalized Learning and Inclusive Excellence.

AP Psychology Teacher and Hope Squad Advisor Alex Beurket pioneered a new course, The Science of Well-Being for Teens, based on a popular course at Yale taught by Dr. Laurie Santos. that meets the Inclusive Excellence standard. As part of the proposal, Beurket had to demonstrate how the district’s focus area of Inclusive Excellence would fit into the course.

“It’s going to inherently require people to reflect on their own life and be honest and evaluate,” Beurket said. “It’s going to be very mental health centered regardless of people’s own experiences, it will be based on just general health.”

Beurket hopes this course will provide students with resources they would otherwise not have had access to.

“I’ve had students that are first generation immigrants tell me that their family doesn’t talk about mental health,” Beurket said. “This is an opportunity to teach that from a research based, scientific lens to people in all cultures.”

Beurket said this course will uniquely help with inclusions due to its scientific focus on what living a better life entails. He said that when people heal themselves they are more likely to be kinder to others.

“When you as an individual feel good about yourself and are living a healthy life, you’re more likely to treat other people well and to be inclusive as a result,” Beurket said.

Mason City School Board Member Ian Orr said there is an extensive process to getting a new course approved. Teachers have to take time to explain how the course fulfills the School Board’s standard of Inclusivity and hear feedback from a Student Achievement Committee.

“Staff members that propose a course come and they give a presentation of what the curriculum will be and there’s an entire block that the staff member must fill out to talk about how the course is accessible and inclusive,” Orr said.

Orr said that this standard is working as the new Food Science course had been an example of a course providing diverse learning opportunities. In this course, students experience cultures around the world through food.

“What speaks to diverse cultures more than sharing food,” Orr said. “Each team or group has to have a recipe they’ve contributed to the recipe book and students get to have this very broad cookbook that spans the world.”

Orr said that Mason as a district aims to extend inclusivity in courses beyond just having diverse course material.

“We want to make sure there are courses that are inclusive to gender, sexuality, race and identities but also perspective and learning styles,” Orr said. “We are at our best when we have courses offering that students of all abilities, genders, races, and identities can see themselves and access.”

To further this, Orr said that the system of analyzing courses through an inclusive lens is progress and though it is not perfect, it allows changes to be made as necessary.

“It’s our sincere intention to have a framework that reflects Inclusive Excellence,” said Orr, “Areas where we are unable to have that are an invitation to be held accountable and then we have to make changes.”

Associate Principal Tina Drake, said that the goal of implementing inclusive learning is to broaden students’ worldview.

“They need to be able to show how our learners will be able to see not only themselves but other people within the resources of the course,” Drake said.

Drake said that inclusivity is an important value as it gives students the tools necessary to be prepared for life after high school.

“It gives students an opportunity to experience education that includes everyone and different demographics,” Drake said. “Those are just skills that we need to make sure we’re focusing on helping people be good humans.”

Though the application of inclusivity initiatives will vary from course to course and look different for carrying subject areas, Drake said a consistent component will be expanding education to create unique classes and learning opportunities for students. 

“A common amongst all content areas would be trying to pull elements from various ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds to create exposure that aligns with subject matter,” Drake said. 

She said that because of increased awareness of other perspectives students will encourage students to be more accepting of different cultures.

“It all comes down to education,” Drake said. “People will learn to understand and empathize with each other and accept each other.”

Drake said the district aims to not only talk about inclusivity initiatives but make sure they are enacting actual plans to ensure the standards of Inclusive Excellence are met.

“We are being very intentional,” Drake said. “In order for it to not just be a buzzword we need to follow through and make it part of everything.”