Are Combined Junior-Senior English Classes a Good Idea?


Caitlyn Carpenter

Bookshelf with several fictional reads features a sign reading “blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.”

Juliet Zucker, A&L Page Director

Next year marks the beginning of a new chapter in the English Department. For the 2021-2022 school year, juniors and seniors will be offered the same English elective classes for the first time. While it has been talked about for a few years, it has finally become reality. All English classes are to be integrated with both junior and senior students, no matter what class they took the previous year. By opening up all the English courses for juniors and seniors, students are given an opportunity that they never had before. 

James Short, the head of the Department of English and an English teacher of upperclassmen, feels that “kids are responding positively, particularly next year’s juniors.” A junior that once had the option of Junior Composition and Literature, AP Language and Composition, or English 11 Honors, may now choose from among ten plus courses. Classes like Art of Film, Creative Writing, or College Composition, which were once just offered to the seniors, have now opened up to the juniors as well. Short sees first hand that kids who research a certain topic or pick up a particular book are “more engaged” in their work. The decision to open up the courses was even under consideration for the 2020-2021 school year. However, “COVID got in the way, so we had to reschedule and regroup,” says Short. As the head of the English Department, he believes that it was “the best decision” and will ultimately “benefit the students.” While the English Department has made this decision, some of the rising juniors and seniors have their own opinion. 

When understanding how some of the rising juniors feel, there was an overall consensus— excitement. A rising junior, Sophie Brause (‘23), thinks that it is “nice because people have more options that they are interested in.” Brause noted that the “social aspect” of being mixed with seniors, with whom she has never been in a class environment, is something to look forward to. Another rising junior, Anna Sewell (‘23), is planning on taking AP English Literature and Composition, a class known to be a more difficult AP course. Knowing this, Sewell mentions that she is “a little nervous to be surrounded by a senior-heavy class,” but “looking forward to the challenge.” 

When taking a look through the lens of a rising senior, the feelings are not mutual. At first glance, Ava Samson (‘22) was not so pleased, as she “wish[ed she] had those opportunities for [her] junior year.” Seeing past the initial irritation, she feels that it is “ultimately a good plan of action” and hopes it “will work out.” However, Samson noted, while she doesn’t personally feel this way, “some seniors might feel slighted” because the level of study might feel less complex, and create a less challenging environment. When you compare eleven years to ten of English study, it is possible that some of the rising juniors are not as prepared to take classes as rigorous as the rising seniors are. The question is how many and how much of an issue this can become.

Junior year is the introduction to AP and college level courses, so being thrown into a class with seniors, who are a whole level of education ahead of them, does not feel like it would create the most balanced environment. Jen Novick (‘22), a rising senior, feels similarly. “If the administration truly believes that someone with zero years of experience in advanced classes [compared to] someone who has [already completed] one year [of them are on equal levels and can be] grouped into one [class], then what worth does my year of experience have? What was the point?” Novick feels let down that she, and her fellow classmates, had no say in the new proposal: “I feel like my experience isn’t respected or valued.” 

While the decision was made with good intentions, it feels as though it lacked consideration to how it would make some students feel. After taking a closer look at what next year’s English classes will hold, there are still lingering questions. Will seniors get priority on the English courses they want to take during scheduling? Will there be an intimidating environment when it comes to participation from a junior in a class of seniors? How rich will classroom discussions be now that there are kids with different stages of English experience? Amidst the undiscovered, there is excitement for the new opportunities and engagement to come from both juniors and seniors. For while the students and the English Department are left with some unknowns, the only way to find out is to try it.