Here’s some electives advice from a junior who’s taken a bunch of them

February 27, 2023 — by Victoria Lin
Photo by Atrey Desai
Journalism Deadline Night
A brief review of some electives that can be taken throughout all four years of high school.

Call me an SHS electives connoisseur. I have taken a bunch of them in my three years here, from journalism to Chinese to engineering and even art. What follows are some of the lessons I’ve learned and advice I have for younger students.

 

Engineering

I took two years of engineering (Intro to Engineering and Principles of Engineering in freshman and sophomore year, respectively). I would recommend it to anyone who likes having a relatively laid-back class, but also enjoys working with their hands and learning about this highly practical subject.

In these classes, you learn to work with different tools depending on the class, since they each have a different focus. For example, Digital Electronics focuses more on breadboards whereas Principles of Engineering focuses more on building machines. 

Besides being conceptual, it’s also hands-on learning. Every month, students make a project. In Principles of Engineering, there was a project where students paired up, made a solar-powered car and held a race at the end. I also remember working on a cupcake machine designed to put sprinkles on cupcakes. There are three engineering classes that can be taken without experience: Intro to Engineering, Principles of Engineering and Digital Electronics. I especially enjoyed the class because I liked working with others on creative projects. 

 

AP Computer Science A

AP Computer Science is one of the most popular electives at this school, and these days, most students take it during their sophomore year. It can be taken junior year too due to its relatively light homework load — most often the homework is just what you didn’t finish for classwork. 

Whether it’s your parents forcing you to learn computer science or you having a genuine interest in coding, I can almost guarantee that you will excel unless you don’t do the homework. 

During class, the teacher (in my case, it is Brandon Petersen) covers the basics of Java programming such as arrays, variables and operators. Anybody, regardless of experience, can take it.

 

Art 

During art, students usually spend the period working on drawing assignments. It is a relaxing class with a few projects thrown in throughout the semester. Students get to work with different mediums such as pencil, oil and watercolor. 

In the early art electives such as Art 1, the class consists of prompts assigned by the teacher such as drawing a picture using two contrasting colors. When students advance up to Art 4 or AP Art, they get creative freedom to create anything they want. For example, some students drew a bird’s eye perspective of an aquarium while others drew their interpretation of today’s beauty standards. 

I took Art 4 since I wanted a class with more free reign on what to draw and because of my experience in art outside of school. Currently, I have a drawing planned with a lot of paper cranes. 

I would advise anyone who is interested in getting into art to consider this class. Usually, those who are more serious about art will take the art elective for all four years of high school and take AP Art in junior year to build up an art portfolio, then continue with Art 4 in senior year for a more laid-back experience. The class is now taught by Joel Tarbox, a painter whose own artwork and deep experience in the subject provides inspiration and strong guidance for budding or proficient artists. 

 

AP Art History

In this class, also taught by Tarbox, you learn about 250 pieces of artwork in one year; homework is mostly reading, completing notes and learning new vocabulary. The art covers pieces from the Neolithic period to the early 2000s. I enjoyed learning about Vermeer, the painter of the “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” and his artistic techniques.

APAH has two field trips, one for each semester: one to the Asian Art Museum and one to the Modern Art Museum of SF. The field trip also invites those who take an art elective to join as well. 

This elective is available for students in grades 10-12, but I advise you to take this class in either 10th or 12th grade since you’ll be more busy with heavier classes or extracurriculars in junior year. 

Personally, I really enjoyed the class. While it doesn’t require any prior art knowledge or skill, be prepared to do a good amount of reading — around 30 pages or less a night — since there are reading quizzes in this class.

 

Language: Chinese

Saratoga High offers a variety of foreign languages at school including Spanish, Chinese, French and Japanese.

Students usually spend the class learning about the culture, picking up new vocabulary and reading passages. There are also projects that focus on food and traditional celebrations. In Chinese, the class wasn’t difficult in terms of homework. However, at the higher levels, students who aren’t familiar with the language will struggle because the class requires students to be able to converse somewhat fluently. While some people usually take Chinese until they finish with the AP Test, there are students who will continue after that to keep in touch with the culture. 

 

Journalism (Falcon newspaper or Talisman yearbook)

Those who enjoy writing, design, art or photography should take this class. There’s the option of writing for either newspaper or yearbook. 

Personally, I think you should take newspaper since you have the opportunity to write articles for The Falcon and have your stories printed or put online. If you’re more interested in design, photography or business, you also have the opportunity to create graphics and layouts, take photos and reach out to local businesses for advertising.

If you’re intimidated by reporting and writing, there are experienced section editors to assist you. Furthermore, there are a variety of topics to cover such as sports, news, entertainment, life, columns and more, so it’s easy to find an interesting topic to write about. 

Every six weeks there is deadline night on Thursday, which is when you get to stay after school until 8:30 p.m. and try to finish all your stories for the print issue. It’s enjoyable to work with others when rushing to finish all your work. There’s also deadline night food such as homemade meals,  Chipotle or pizza!

Besides the chaotic rush of everyone trying to finish their stories before deadline night, this class is usually calm. 

Those are all the elective classes I have taken so far, so I hope this can help anyone who struggled with choosing classes like me or provide a bit of context about each one.

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