Stuyvesant Seniors Speculate on Elective Shortcomings

Students struggle to obtain desired electives amidst class shortages.

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Before the start of each semester, Stuyvesant students rush to Talos to rank AP and elective courses, hoping to get their desired classes. Department heads use this data to determine what electives will be offered and how many sections they will have. However, a combination of full class sections, scheduling conflicts, and simple bad luck have often made it difficult for students to get the classes they want. This year has been particularly difficult for some juniors and seniors at Stuyvesant seeking specific elective classes due to a teacher shortage.

Some teachers in the Computer Science department left in the past year, forcing the department to create fewer sections for those teachers’ courses. “Which electives are offered depends on [...] student demand and [...] available teachers,” computer science coordinator and teacher JonAlf Dyrland-Weaver said in an e-mail interview. “[Topher] Mykolyk is out on sabbatical this year, which accounts for the missing number of sections. It is difficult to find qualified CS teachers, and especially ones on a purely interim basis.” 

The mathematics department has also experienced teachers leaving, including former mathematics teacher Stan Kats. However, Assistant Principal of Mathematics Eric Smith claims that this has not had any impact on math elective offerings. “Post-calculus electives are not low in supply. Everyone who has already taken calculus is enrolled in a math course this year,” Smith said in an e-mail interview. “It isn’t true that demand exceeds supply. Last year, we had four sections of post-AP calc electives. We have four again this year.”

Nevertheless, many students are under the impression that the math department was especially affected by this shortage. “Since Kats, who taught the Honors [Precalculus and AP Calculus] BC class, left, [math teacher Deena] Avigdor took over his Honors BC class, and [math teacher Joseph] Stern had to take over Avigdor’s BC class for this year. A lot of friends I know were really bummed out by this, because Stern taught the Quantum Mechanics and Complex Calculus [electives],” senior Mahir Hossain said. “Because of the teacher shortage, we have to accommodate for the classes you need to graduate, and as a result, the electives have to be taken out.” 

However, Smith claims that the math electives offered depended on student interest, not teachers’ departures. “We have offered Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, Complex Calculus, and Math of Quantum Mechanics,” Smith said. “[Which classes are offered] depend[s] on the year and what courses students opt for during course selection.” 

Whether or not a teacher shortage has affected elective availability, many students who sought more advanced classes, especially those who self-studied AP Calculus BC, describe being impacted by an elective deficit. “Smith noted that if you [self-studied and] got a five [on the AP Calculus BC exam], you were able to take Linear Algebra or Multivariable Calculus as your next math class,” Hossain said. “[However], a lot of friends I know scored a five but were [still placed] in Calc BC because all the seats in [Multivariable Calculus] and Linear Algebra were taken. So, these kids who want to go into post-AP Calc classes can’t move into their post-AP Calc classes and are stuck in a class where they know all the material.”

This feeling was echoed for electives in other departments, as many students were disappointed by a lack of sections for highly in-demand classes. “I wanted to take AP Physics C, but unfortunately there weren’t enough sections for me to join the class, so I wished that Stuy was able to offer more sections of that class,” senior Shwetlana Jha said. “I think it was just an issue of space, since classes are only allowed to [have a maximum of] 34 students.”

For seniors in particular, another issue they identified was the supposed lack of prioritization given to them in the elective selection process. To solve this, several students have asked for greater transparency throughout the selection process. “I heard [Steven] O’Malley’s [Organic Chemistry] class had eight juniors, which is insane, considering how the program office talks about how senior priority is their main concern. Over the past few years, I know the amount of [Organic Chemistry] seats for juniors [has been] maybe two max per class,” Hossain said. “There’s no transparency with the senior priority. It depends on the year. Everything changes, which I feel is not communicated as well as I’d like it to be.”

Some students have also expressed the desire that priority be given to granting classes to students that are aligned with their intended majors. “This year, I didn’t get any computer science classes despite requesting multiple. I also intend to be a computer science major, so this was particularly disappointing for me,” senior Arielle Nudelman said. “The programming office should take into consideration intended majors because it can help students get a head start on what they want to do in the future or get a head start on realizing that subject isn’t the right one for them.”

The current lack of availability can have a major impact, as students have even changed their plans for college applications due to not receiving their requested courses. “I was going to apply [as a] history and politics [major]. I have since changed my major to just history because I don’t think I can back [a major in politics] up well enough [...] without [Western Political Theory],” senior Petra Dijur said. 

The consequent changes to the electives left seniors, who were hoping for a richer educational experience in their last year of high school, particularly disappointed. “The reason we take these electives [as upperclassmen] is to broaden our perspective[s], and if we’re not able to get those as students, especially in our last [year], it kind of defeats the whole purpose of trying to open ourselves and keep ourselves open-minded to different curriculums,” Hossain said. 

However, even if students don’t receive their desired electives, a small solution that many crave is clear communication from the administration that can provide them with a greater understanding of their program change’s feasibility. “I really think it would be nice if we were given our waitlist positions, instead of getting it redacted. I feel like that’s a huge frustration not only for myself, but [also] for sophomores, juniors, and seniors,” Hossain said. “It brings us a lot of stress trying to switch out and into classes, especially when we’re moving around half our schedule around. If you at least tell us, at least we’ll feel a bit better about how feasible the program change is.”

Despite their suggestions, students ultimately acknowledge that the issues with class programming at Stuyvesant are not ones that are easily solvable. “How are you supposed to fix something like this that operates on such a large scale? [...] Other schools do not do [program] changes. We are very lucky to have access to changes and I am very grateful that we have a system [in] which we can fight for things,” Dijur said. “I feel very hesitant to offer suggestions [...] [because] I don’t necessarily think I have a full enough understanding of the problem to do that. But I think there has got to be a way to improve the system.”