As students and faculty at MBHS have adapted to a predominantly remote learning setting, the school has had to find new and innovative ways to keep students connected in these unconventional times. Enter Synchronous Learning Labs, or SLLs, optional classes that go beyond the realm of traditional academic subjects and venture into new and exciting topics. Unique to MBHS, these classes give students a chance to explore their interests in a less structured and more open environment. In these classes, “there is less pressure to say the correct answer and memorize the content you’re learning,” according to senior Lena Idris.
In January, Mr. Conway announced that the Parent Teacher Organization had proposed instituting SLLs to supplement regular coursework; teachers were encouraged to submit proposals for classes. Some came up with courses based on their content area, while others drew inspiration from their hobbies and personal interests. Mr. Post, for example, teaches science at MBHS but his SLL focuses on drawing. Giving teachers the opportunity to choose their subject areas afforded them the opportunity to teach subjects they feel passionate about while also offering students a unique menu of options.
One such example is the Financial Literacy SLL, taught by Mr. Robinson. In this class, students explore topics like the stock market, taxes and other subjects revolving around money. In one meeting, students chose a stock to follow, and the class tracked its trajectory over the next few sessions. They analyzed what happened to the stock and discussed why it happened. According to Mr. Robinson, he chose to teach this subject because “there are a lot of topics that aren’t taught in school that should be taught… Students should understand how the stock market works.” He adds that, “In America, [paying for] college ends up being your financial literacy class, which makes it more stressful than it should be.” Much like the students, he feels the atmosphere is more low stakes in his SLL than a typical academic class. The SLL is more focused on “opening access to information,” Robinson notes. He sees his class as an opportunity to provide a more relaxed learning environment, while still give students vital information they will need in the future.
These classes provide numerous benefits to students. Sophomore Matthew Gabbidon, who has attended multiple SLLs including music, freewriting and Current Events in STEM, stated that the structure is not too rigid, “which allows for more real conversation.” In SLLs, students can have interesting conversations without “the feel that you’re [taking time away from the lesson].” Lena Idris, who is attending Ms. Valencia’s Spanish sessions for upper level students, shares that “the biggest benefit of this SLL is that it challenges me in my comprehension of Spanish. When I am in the SLL, I have to listen in Spanish first in order to understand.” The students are benefiting in ways that are clear to teachers as well. Mr. Robinson observes that “the best thing for students is to explore different topics that they may not be able to in school.”
Not only do these classes enrich students, but instructors recognize they benefit from teaching this style of class. Ms. Greenman, who teaches a creative writing SLL, explains that “teachers are super excited to share their passions with students.” She also says, “This is a difficult year for us too, and it’s nice to be with students who are excited to write, or read or draw or talk about current events—whatever it is.”
In interviews, students and teachers highlighted that these classes were more relaxed in format partly because they are optional. Ms. Greenman explains that the administration considered making these classes mandatory; however they chose to make the offerings voluntary because “[students should] come to these because it’s something they want to do, and if they’re not being forced to do it, it will make [the classes] much more enjoyable. It’s kind of a challenge for students who want it.” Students seem to agree that this was the right choice. Idris says, “It’s important to note that people choose to come to the SLL, [which changes the dynamic].” Mr. Robinson adds, “The only students that are there are interested in the topic, and that kind of helps me.”
At MBHS, school has been predominantly virtual for much of the past year and a half. But these SLL classes are one example of a silver lining in this unconventional year. While they may not continue in future years, these specialized courses provided safe and pressure-free spaces for students who wanted to expand their interests while learning from home.