December 8, 2021

McGraw High School offers pass-fail classes for students to explore

Learning for its own sake

Colin Spencer/Staff Reporter

Brent Thomas and Lexi Stiles participate in deadlifting exercises in the pass-fail course “Intro to Weightlifting and Lifefit” Wednesday at McGraw High School.

McGraw High School junior Lexi Stiles squatted Wednesday while holding a 40-pound barbell bar. She brought it up to her waist in the school’s weight room. This was a class, intro to weightlifting and lifefit.

The three-sport student — soccer, basketball and softball — said the pass-fail weightlifting class offers her an opportunity to get in shape and learn proper workout techniques, a class she might not have taken if it weren’t pass-fail.

Educators at McGraw High School are giving students the chance to explore new subjects and take courses in a less-stressful environment with new pass-fail electives.

New this year, the school offers five pass-fail electives for quarter- or half-credit, said Superintendent Melinda McCool:

    • Public speaking and American oratory.
    • Intro to weightlifting and lifefit.
    • Conspiracy theories in world history.
    • The making of music.
    • iPad Ensemble.

We were starting a conversation about how do we get students to go to school and having classes students love,” McCool said. “We also wanted to do it in a non-stressful manner to increase excitement.”

The courses are a way for students to be productive during a study hall period, McGraw High School Principal Mark Dimorier said.

“It takes the pressure off and the students can learn for the sake of learning,” he said.

McGraw Central School District is the third public school district in the country offering pass-fail elective courses, McCool said, following schools in Humboldt, Texas, and Wentsville, Mississippi.

The weightlifting course, taught by physical education teacher Taylor Hughes, offers students the chance to learn how to properly lift weights and complete exercises without the fear of failure or being judged, Hughes said.

The five students in the class this quarter begin with a warm-up followed by a specific workout skill, broken down into smaller steps to prevent injury. Class ends with another workout involving that skill.

“I’m taking this class so I know how to work out better on my own time so I can learn it now and apply it own outside of school,” Stiles said, and it offers immediate benefits.

“It’s 46 minutes of the school day … that’s benefiting you right now,” Stiles said.

Joe Seamans, a ninth and 10th grade global studies teacher and co-creator of conspiracy theories in world history, said the lack of grades for his course will help students focus on learning the subject. The course does not begin until January but already has 14 students enrolled.

“We are going to be asking the student to process a lot of information and sometimes, when there is a grade attached, they’re almost afraid to take a chance, that they want exact information to turn over to a test to get 100%,” he said. “With it being pass-fail, it’s the idea of learning as you go.”

Students will look into conspiracy theories and the ideas behind them and whether that evidence holds any validity. Students will lead discussions and what topics to explore next, Seamans said.

Students will also investigate a conspiracy theory of their choice, develop an argument around it and determine whether the argument is valid.

Inspiration for the course came students in Seamans’ other classes asking about historical conspiracy theories like Hitler escaping a bunker in Berlin and fleeing to Argentina or the assassination of President Kennedy.

“The process (of putting evidence together into an argument) is the whole point of the class,” he said. “It might work, it might not, but that’s the whole point.”