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The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

Students and Teachers Reflect on New Humanities Electives

Students+and+Teachers+Reflect+on+New+Humanities+Electives
Staff illustration: Amber More

With so many new elective options, it’s difficult to not wish for the ability to take on more classes. This year, Menlo began offering a variety of new humanities electives, such as Criminal Justice, Psychology: A Beginner’s Guide to Your Brain and Economic Theory. Some of these new electives are semester-long classes, while others occupy a full academic year. With the end of the semester approaching, teachers and students reflect on the successes and failures of these new electives and consider ways to improve each class.

Criminal Justice is a new semester-long history elective that started last fall, taught by Katina Ballantyne. The idea for this class was inspired by Ballantyne’s time teaching at a large public school, where some of the students had been involved in the juvenile justice system. According to Ballantyne, the perspectives she learned from her students opened her eyes to the realities of the justice system. Moreover, she has always been interested in how the American justice system works and how it has evolved over time.

With units about how criminal trials function, dilemmas facing the justice system like a shortage of public defenders and the increase in incarceration since the 1970s, the course Ballantyne designed covers her interests. She is especially excited for the last unit in her course, which addresses the differences between the U.S. justice system and other systems around the world. Students are also able to analyze case studies and perform a mock trial in her class.

Criminal Justice student and junior Lauren Mrva described the class as an enlightening course that has sparked her interest in a possible career in the justice system. “I think that this is really important for me to know, beyond Menlo and beyond college,” Mrva said. Ballantyne encourages students who are curious about the U.S. justice system or students who are interested in learning something new to take this elective. Ballantyne hopes that students will learn critical thinking skills, how to analyze factually based evidence and how to evaluate media coverage with a grain of salt.

In addition to Criminal Justice, Psychology is another new, semester-long elective offered this year. Psychology is taught by history teacher Dylan Citrin Cummins, who believes that the concepts of psychology are important for high school students to understand. Cummins uses media clips, discussions and advertisements to cover material like the psychology of marketing, human friendships and romantic relationships.

Cummins wants to teach students to take a step back from the events of their lives and recognize how psychology is affecting those around them as well as themselves. With teaching a new elective, Cummins is able to craft the curriculum around his students’ interests. Psychology student and senior Emmy Ford appreciates how impactful this class feels from others she has taken and allows her to relate the lessons to her own life.

Another new semester-long elective is Economic Theory, taught by history teacher Charles Hanson. This class was inspired by the AP Economics class Menlo offered in years past. However, because the class has lost its AP status, Hanson now has unlimited creativity in terms of the class curriculum; he is now excited to teach what he referred to as economics’s “greatest hits.” The first quarter of this class covers microeconomic concepts, or the study of the effects of individual actions, while the second quarter focuses on macroeconomic concepts or the study of how the economy functions as a whole. This class prepares students to take Hanson’s spring elective, Environmental and Development Economics.

Economic Theory student and junior Will Hauser has enjoyed the engaging nature of this class; according to Hauser, the class is never dull because there is much new content to learn. Hauser also appreciates the knowledge he can take beyond this class, like how an economy operates and what a good economy means versus a bad one.

Ballantyne, Cummins and Hanson all agree that the freedom to explore a student’s interests about a particular topic without being restrained by a rigid curriculum has been liberating for them as they continue to improve their classes.

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About the Contributor
Caroline Clack, Video Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 2

Favorite aspect of journalism: Seeing all of our finished stories in print/online and definitely the CoA community of writers and editors

Interests outside of school: mock trial, soccer, & spending time with friends/family

Class of 2026

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