Ceramics and SHS TV programs working to boost numbers, interest

February 10, 2015 — by Andrew Jiang and Spring Ma

The school's Ceramics and SHS TV are facing decreases in the number of students they see in class each year, and are trying to find ways to turn their enrollment trends around.

“Come in. Relax. Be creative.”

When Ceramics teacher Leah Aguayo opens the door to her classroom before class, she shares these words of encouragement with her excited students.

“Yes, you have to work [when you come in my room],” Aguayo said. “But I’m not going to judge [your work], and there’s no competition [in class]. I’d like to think of my room as a safe haven.”

For the past 34 years, Aguayo has dedicated herself to building the school’s Ceramics program. The number of higher-level Ceramics students she sees every day, however, has declined in recent years: Enrollment in Ceramics 2 and 3 has halved this year. Likewise, SHS TV is also facing similar decreases in the number of students they see in class, and both programs are trying to find ways to turn their enrollment trends around.

Reasons for declines

According to Aguayo, two factors have affected student enrollment: the introduction of the Engineering program and a policy from 2012 that allows students to double in AP science courses.

“I get a lot of freshmen every year that are super excited about Ceramics, but then other APs and Honors classes [or other programs] take them their upperclassman years,” Aguayo said. “Many kids have a passion with clay but never get to experience the true depth of [it].”

One of Aguayo’s main concerns is the number of students who leave the ceramics program after taking Ceramics 1. Even though there are 110 Ceramics 1 students this year, there are only 16 Ceramics 2 students and nine Ceramics 3 students. The  advanced  classes are taught together along with Ceramics 1 in one period.  

Senior Irene Chen, a student in Ceramics 3, also attributes the decrease to the school’s competitive nature.

“A lot of students would rather take another science or STEM class because it looks better on transcripts,” Chen said. “Honestly, people have to realize not everything is about academics, or taking a lot of APs.”

Chen took AP Biology for one semester junior year, but dropped the class to TA Ceramics 2 the following semester.

“AP Biology wasn't my passion, even when I got decent grades,” Chen said. “I thought, ‘Do I really want to struggle studying all the time for something I won't use in the future?’”

Aguayo hopes that in a time period and location (Silicon Valley) primarily focused on science and technology, students can still appreciate the importance of the arts.

“We’re at eight art classes in a school this big, and to me that’s just a shame,” Aguayo said. “Our sister school, Los Gatos, offer[s] fashion designing, culinary, metalwork, woodshop, ceramics and art.”

Sophomore Laura Makeever, who took Ceramics 1 freshman year, said Ceramics students tend to take the class for one year as a fun way to fulfill their visual arts credit.

Makeever, like many other Ceramics students, enjoyed the class’s active and stress-free atmosphere but did not continue sophomore year because her schedule was tight when she decided to be part of the Media Arts Program, which requires three periods.

Nevertheless, Aguayo believes that this year’s enrollment  issues were an aberration.

“It’s like I’ve lost the championship football team,” Aguayo said. “Every team has winning CCS champions, but then many graduates leave and the coach has to build a younger team. My Ceramics 1 group this year is like [that new team.]”

Aguayo explained that last year, many of her graduating students were “incredible potters that could go on and teach college classes.” Now, Aguayo is focusing her efforts on cultivating new members to build a new “winning team.”

SHS TV to try new ideas

For SHS TV, the number of students has halved from 28 students a year ago to 14 students this year. A new policy this year requires MAP juniors to take a mandatory elective course, Media Arts 2, which has made the SHS TV crew largely dependent on seniors and the few students who join the staff from outside the program.

Last year, in addition to U.S. History MAP and English 11 MAP, juniors could choose between SHS TV, Filmmaking and Animation for their third required MAP class. Now, they must take Media Arts 2, and can only take these other classes senior year or as additional electives junior year.

Because of this change, SHS TV is only offered during seventh period, which MAP director Tony Palma said is inconvenient for many upperclassmen who “have sports or activities that conflict, or simply do not want a seventh period.” In response, Palma and the administration are considering moving the class to another period next year.

According to Palma, the administration has also considered opening the class to freshmen who have experience in Griffin News Network, Redwood Middle School’s broadcasting elective, in hopes of boosting enrollment.

Similarly, Aguayo hopes the best for the years following the Ceramics program’s transition.

“I would pray to God that my class doesn’t go away,” Aguayo said. “When I (eventually retire), I hope this room stays a Ceramics room.”

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