Through Our Fingers Like Sand: The Cut Classes of Helena High School

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Thomas Black, Writer

Classes. Love them or hate them, they are, regardless, the backbone of any high school’s structure. From the mandatory English and math classes to the niche Culinary Arts and Journalism, there are plenty to choose from. However, despite the plethora of classes up for the taking, there are quite a few that’ve been lost at Helena High in the transition from the 2021-22 to 2022-23 school year. Some classes that unfortunately have been cut include the following:

AP Research was a very hands-off class where the students would spend the entire semester researching a self-selected topic and doing a presentation at the end. That’s it. It was really just like a Study Hall, but with the added flavor of you getting to pick what you wanted to do as an assignment. In the 2022-23 school year, there were a whopping 0 applicants. None at all. No students signed up for AP Research, which I’m not really surprised by, given what I know about the class and what I know about the student population at HHS. It is still sad though, as I really can see the appeal of a class like AP Research; a class where you get to spend time researching and talking about something you’re passionate about and get credits for, but alas, it never really got off the ground.

 

AP Seminar was a class that focused more on exploration and analysis than anything else. Its primary purpose was to give students a taste of what most college classes are like. In AP Seminar, students would learn how to explore ideas about current situations, find and analyze information in a systematic way, write research papers, and give speeches based on the information they examined. The first semester would be about exploring a topic decided by the teacher, while in the second semester, students would get to research and present on a topic of their own choosing. It definitely wasn’t a class for everyone, seeing as not everyone from rural Montana even wants to go to college, but for those who did, AP Seminar was a great resource.

Biomed 3 and Biomed 4 were high-level science classes that tested students’ familiarity and skill with the lessons taught in previous biology classes. The classes’ projected student numbers were always low, given that, similar to AP Seminar, the classes were oriented for students who wished to go to college, which not all students want. So, onto the chopping block Biomed 3 and 4 went.

Science Seminar was a discussion-based class for students who were really into science, which focused on real-world applications of both new and old information. The class also had frequent guest speakers, ranging from lawyers and doctors to even representatives from NASA, who would talk about how what they learned in science classes affected their day-to-day lives. Science Seminar students took trips to Yellowstone Park, the Seeley-Swan area, Dupuyer (Boone and Crockett Club), and to the West Coast.

Science Seminar also hosted a beloved community event: Science Circus. The circus was a massive production done by students themselves, wherein they’d show off what they’d learned to any and all who attended, especially children. Baking soda volcanoes, bottle rockets, and the like as far as the eye could see. And when I say beloved, I really mean it. Science Circus was hosted for a whopping 36 whole years, from 1986 to this year (though it did actually take a break during 2020 because of the pandemic, but no one’s going to fault them for taking off the year that’s equivalent to Shark Tale in terms of how utterly garbage it was). But, with the cutting of Science Seminar, Science Circus–the community event that was older than some teachers here at HHS–came to a sad end. 

Science Fiction is what you’d imagine: a class about reading and dissecting Science Fiction literature and film: its tropes, worldbuilding within the genre, and the common pitfalls writers of it fall into. It overlapped with Creative Writing, another class that dissects tropes, worldbuilding, and pitfalls writers fall into, just without the focus on the genre of Science Fiction specifically. Ultimately, the class was cut.

AP Statistics is exactly what it sounds like: a class about diving deeper into college-level math, with a particular emphasis on calculating statistics and extrapolating meaning from them. Given that many students dislike math (I mean who can really blame them), it’s not a surprise in any way that AP Statistics had a low student turnout and was axed.

Native American Literature is also exactly what it sounds like: a class about diving deeper into Native American literary works and how indigenous people were affected by colonization. This class would give a different perspective on said colonization by white settlers and have students read new books by Native American authors. Unfortunately, after beloved Blackfeet teacher Joe Anderson and his drum group retired, the class couldn’t retain enough students and was cut.

 

AP European History is also also exactly what it sounds like: a class about diving deeper into European history, much, much further than American History or World Cultures. It explored the life and times of various monarchs, the reaction to the bubonic plague, the evolution of European art, the perspective on the American Revolution from a different perspective, the cultural variety across Europe, and much more. It was definitely a very intense class, but for those who really love learning about history it was a lovely experience. Thankfully, AP European History hasn’t entirely been cut, but it’s now on a yearly rotation, meaning that even if you really want to take AP European History, you might be fresh out of luck until next year.

Journalism and Newspaper, in a similar vein, weren’t cut, per se, but rather merged into one class. This does mean these classes live on in some form, but it also isolates the students who signed up for one or the other and weren’t interested in the class their choice got merged with. I’ve seen this for myself; a student who didn’t want to have to write articles about subjects they may or may not have cared about, in addition to schoolwork from their other classes, was disappointed and dropped the class. 

Reading the Movies was probably the most well-liked cut of the 2022-2023 bunch. It was a class about watching movies, and from that alone, you can see why it was more popular than the others that were on the chopping block this year. While the class also featured a heavy analysis aspect, most applicants came to watch movies in school, which does admittedly sound like a great time.

Word Clues probably isn’t a class you’ve heard of, as it hasn’t been on the docket for over a decade, but it’s one of the earliest examples in recent memory of a niche class being cut. It was primarily focused on learning about the roots of the many words we use in our everyday life and their origins in other languages like Spanish, French, and of course, the crustiest language no one actually ever speaks: Latin. However, this wasn’t some plain wheat-bread English class; Word Clues structured its lessons in a way that made it more akin to a large board game spanning multiple months of school. While this class was a lot of fun for those who opted to take it, many students back then, and even now, weren’t particularly interested in learning about the roots and history of the words we use in our daily lives beyond the ones taught in your standard curriculum English courses, and Word Clues was lost to history.

There are also plenty of classes that, while not cut completely, have been significantly rolled back. Multiple Fine Arts, P.E., and Welding classes have had the amount of periods they’re allotted to cut down. In addition, due to low enrollment in marketing classes, the Catty Shack had to reduce its days of operation from five to two.

As you can tell, most of these cut classes have one thing in common; the reason why they were cut was because of low student turnout. And why is that? Sure, most of these classes are niche and wouldn’t appeal to your average HHS student, but that hasn’t stopped electives from being available before, so what gives?

The cutting of these classes, and classes from previous years, can all be traced back to one thing: the advent of East Helena High School. The creation of this school set a domino effect into motion. 

Because of the creation of EHHS, the number of students at HHS has been dropping steadily, a total of 650 students since 2019. Because of this, HHS has lost a good chunk of its funding. For every student, the school received $7,600 in funding from the state. Without the surplus of funding that HHS would usually have, it simply can’t afford to support these elective classes. 

Honestly, it’s kind of underwhelming how simple, basic, and just . . .  incredibly normal the reason is. 

It would be way more sensational and fun if the reason was that “The greedy, EVIL school board HATED supporting these beloved, niche classes and STOLE them from us PURELY for the TWISTED SATISFACTION at our MISERY,” but that’s just not the case here. It’s simply a case of a lack of funding, caused by the advent of a newer school attracting many of HHS’ former students, nothing more, nothing less.

It is really disappointing how many unique and odd classes we’ve lost in the last few years, from the unconventional Learning the Movies and Word Clues to the college-prepping Biomeds and APs; these classes that’ve been cut are ones whose absence will leave an impact, for better, but more likely, worse.

 

(Information in this article was provided by HHS Principal Steve Thennis, Business Services Administrator Janelle Mickelson, Missy Sampson, other teachers, and former and current students of Helena High School)