Science department cuts lead to student activism

On June 11, Emmaus High School students will present a proposal to the school board advocating for the acquisition of two additional science teachers to the school due to the amount of students that were cut from requested science classes.

Due to an increase in enrollment throughout the district, there are simply not enough science teachers to accommodate the students’ needs. Because of this dilemma, classes like Environmental Science and Anatomy will only be able to run in small numbers, and Botany-Zoology as well as the beloved elementary school visits to the planetarium will be discontinued for the 2018-19 school year.

Science department head Brent Ohl explains how the school board has to make the tough decision to either hire more teachers or cut certain classes, and as of now its choice has seemed to be to cut courses.

“To run the department at the high standards for college preparation, we need teachers…it’s that simple,” Ohl said. “If the decision is that we can’t get enough teachers, well then this is going to happen every year.”

However, some students are simply not satisfied with sitting back and watching some of their favorite courses be cut due to lack of faculty.

Senior Miles Zakos has turned to activism by asking his fellow classmates to sign a petition for the board to hire two additional teachers. As of May 29, Zakos had approximately 300 signatures, and other classmates of his have joined his cause out of the same passion for science, and the desire to keep its spirit alive for EHS students.

“It was really those elementary planetarium trips that got me interested [in science],” Zakos said. “Because for me in particular, when I was little, coming up here and being able to ask questions about black holes…and to be able to see the stars, it got me very excited about science, and it’s a big part of the reason I’m going into astrophysics at Penn State in the fall…”

Astronomy teacher Andrew McConville, who has been leading the elementary trips to the planetarium for 12 years, is dismayed to see the trip be cut and thinks that the exposure to science it provides to elementary schoolers is imperative.

“I might be a little bit biased, but I think it’s a great opportunity,” McConville said. “The earlier the students get in here, the more questions [and] creativity they have at an early learning time and so it’;; only help them be better science learners as they go through elementary and middle school years and up into high school.”

Superintendent Michael Schilder had previously advocated for the hiring of two new science teachers, but lowered his offer to one teacher after realizing a compromise had to be reached.

“I’m hoping that by showing the signatures [to the school board] I can either make two [teachers] seem more reasonable and a compromise on one guaranteed, or get people to see the wisdom of Dr. Schilder’s previously proposed plan,” Zakos said.

Ohl admires Zakos’ and other students’ activism, and thinks it is phenomenal that a movement like this is coming from the students themselves.

“I think it’s great,” Ohl said. “One of the things he [Zakos] always says he remembers vividly from elementary school was going to the planetarium…and it’s a shame that other kids won’t get that experience to possibly follow in his footsteps.”

McConville also notes Zakos’ tenacity and passion for this issue, especially because he is a senior and will not reap any of the consequences from these department cuts.

“He’s [Zakos] a great student, a great individual and for him to be leading the charge of something that he is passionate about is outstanding,” McConville said. “As seniors right now…he’s on his way out and he thinks that the program is that special …it’s fantastic.”

Cutting courses is never a desired outcome for students, teachers, or school board members, but with enrollment in the district climbing, cuts like this will most likely have to be made from multiple departments in the coming years.

Despite the fact that the upcoming year’s budget may not be able to afford two new teachers, or that classroom space in the school is limited as is, students and faculty members alike are willing to make it work in order to maintain the precedent of academic excellence that Emmaus has fostered for so long.

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