The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

New MIHS English Class Offers Alternative to Honors and AP Courses

Graphic by Lena Hardisty

Last year, the Mercer Island High School English department launched the long-overdue grade-12 class: Race, Identity and Representation in Comparative Literature. Now, the challenge lies within encouraging future Mercer Island seniors to opt for a non-honors course in a school plagued by an honors-driven culture, fueled by both students and parents.

Taught by English teacher and drama director, Daniela Melgar, the class strays from the perspective typically studied in English classes: the heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied white male, and rather focuses on stories from a diverse group of individuals.

“I look forward to [the class] every day … I’m inspired by the conversations we have … and different students in the class [that] have shared their own experiences. That connection to me is so key,” Melgar said. 

Regardless of the crucial conversations in the classroom, Mercer Island students continue to opt for classes that they hope will give them an edge in the college admissions process, leaving the Race Literature course small in numbers. Although there are benefits to the class feeling like a small-knit college seminar, more students learning from the valuable lessons taught in Race Literature would benefit the overall well-being of Mercer Island High School. 

“Mercer Island is fantastic but it’s … kind of a bubble, [so] to learn these stories of the different ways of life and the history behind those voices [is] key to leaving this Island and making your way through the world,” Melgar said. “By senior year, these are conversations, discussions and debates that we should be having and that prepare seniors for college-level work and [are important to] the way that we view the world,” Melgar said.

One student who realized the importance of this is Acacia Zou, a senior at MIHS who is currently enrolled in both Race Literature and AP/honors block.

“As an Asian-American woman, I don’t really see myself in the books we read in standard English classes,” Zou said. “I felt that Race Lit would be a good fit for me due to its focus on literature from diverse voices and racial justice issues, allowing me to feel represented,” Zou said. 

A potential solution for increasing enrollment of this class, and allowing more students to feel represented is to play into the honors-and-AP-driven culture at MIHS by making Race, Representation and Identity in Comparative Literature an honors course, yet there are drawbacks to that idea.

“We don’t want the class that opens discussions about race, identity [and] marginalized people to be perceived as having some kind of barrier to get into…slapping an H or an AP to a class automatically lowers the number of students who would be willing to take it,” English teacher Eric Goldhammer said. 

Goldhammer worked on the development of this course alongside six other teachers. 

Despite the course’s dwindling enrollment, it has received an overwhelming amount of support from the Mercer Island School District administration.

“I don’t know exactly what the solution is. I do think it’s kind of a bigger question that the district is dealing with when it comes to honors, high-cap, AP … they went out of their way to get [the class] rolling,” Goldhammer shared.

However, district support may not be enough for the course to withstand the toxic culture at MIHS. The disparity between enrollment in advanced classes compared with the race literature class leads us to question its success in years to come, especially as colleges become more competitive. 

“A lot depends on the class being successful, and it is…[but] by calling it honors, who have we eliminated?” Goldhammer inquired. “I think it’s more important to keep the door open for anybody who wants to take it than to appease some myth that you’re not going to get into college unless you take honors classes.”

Without sufficient student enrollment, the course will not be able to accomplish its central goal. Hopefully future seniors at MIHS will realize the importance of taking this class rather than continuing the trend of taking an honors course regardless of actual content and significance. In the end, taking a class that will help the world progress in the future should be more important than a class that may or may not help with college admissions.

“We do have privilege [on Mercer Island] … and we have a duty to the people outside of this world … to be allies and be social justice warriors … and how to dissect literature to see how different folks are represented,” Melgar said.

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  • A

    abbyFeb 2, 2022 at 12:36 pm

    This class sounds so cool! Great article Ellie and Julia!!

  • Z

    ZoyaFeb 2, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Amazing article and great job on talking about the ap and honors pressure students have at this school. I hope I will be able to take the class senior year

  • J

    JordanFeb 1, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    Awesome article Ellie and Julia- I love this point of view, I feel like it covers both the bases of explaining why the class is important and covering why people are hesitant to take it. As someone who would love to take this class in the future, it’s really interesting to read and learn about some of the intricacies of it! Also- the infographic is great!