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Class electives expand to fit today's job market in New Orleans schools 

click to enlarge In their interior design class at Mount Carmel Academy, students (l-r) Marci DeFelice, Candace Hebert, Claire DeLucca and Victoria Murphy work on designing houses to fit the needs of different families.
  • In their interior design class at Mount Carmel Academy, students (l-r) Marci DeFelice, Candace Hebert, Claire DeLucca and Victoria Murphy work on designing houses to fit the needs of different families.

When Jessica Richards, a junior at Isidore Newman School, arrived home March 19 after spending two weeks in Spain with her classmates and staying with a host family in Santiago, she immediately expressed interest in returning to that country and continuing her studies.

  "All of us are really excited to hopefully travel back or to spend a semester there abroad in college," Richards says.

  Sentiments like Richards' are what faculty at Newman hope to see when their students take part in the Dr. James Brown Spanish Exchange Program, an immersion program in which students from Spain travel to New Orleans to stay two weeks in the fall, and Newman students complete the exchange trip to Spain in the spring. Developed so its students will be prepared for global influences and opportunities upon graduation, the school's Spanish exchange program is just one of a variety of uncommon programs Newman offers its students.

  Newman isn't the only New Orleans school looking to expose students to unique cultural experiences, and electives are no longer the standard French, Spanish, art and music. To better prepare students for life after high school, many courses are geared toward educating students about what professions and careers await them.

  At Mount Carmel Academy, juniors and seniors can take an interior design class. Students learn how to draw a floor plan to scale and design a house through Better Homes and Gardens interior designer software, as well as tutorials in selecting fabrics and paint colors.

  "A lot of [the girls] come back after graduation and are excited about what they've learned and how it's prepared them," says Michelle Rigney, director of admissions at Mount Carmel and an instructor in the interior design class. "I have a number of students who go to [Louisiana State University] and [The University of Louisiana at Lafayette] interior design programs, and one student is doing a master of architecture (program) at Georgia [Institute of Technology]."

  Starting this fall, St. Paul's School in Covington will offer biomedical engineering as a science elective. The class will explore medical concepts by studying infectious diseases, heart disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and sickle cell anemia.

  "The class is very hands-on; the teacher is not in front of the class lecturing," says assistant principal for academics Trevor Watkins. "It's very much the kids investigating and learning all this biology intuitively."

  Both Edna Karr and Brother Martin high schools offer forensics classes where students learn to investigate crime scenes "like they do on CSI," says Henry Reed, registrar and former science department chair at Edna Karr. "They learn investigative techniques such as glass analysis, DNA testing, drug analysis, blood-type analysis and bullet trajectories."

  Drafting and architecture classes are available at St. Augustine High School. Teacher Joseph Scott tries to give students an idea of how their drafting knowledge can help them in the long run.

  "I expose them to all the jobs and careers that are available [with this knowledge]," he says. "I have some students at Southern University who are studying engineering, as well as students at LSU, and I have a student applying for the School of Architecture at Syracuse University in New York."

  Scott's colleague Donald Neveu says taking his web-design class and learning the basics of creating and maintaining a website could provide students an additional source of income while they complete their college degrees.

  "There are students who have graduated from St. Augustine who are working on websites from their dorm rooms to make some extra money," Neveu says.   Many schools offer arts programs, but Benjamin Franklin High School supplements its art program with a stagecraft class where students learn set design and work one-on-one with personnel in the theater department.

  "One does not live by academics alone," principal Timothy Rusnak says. "Stagecraft is part of our ongoing program to enhance the arts at Benjamin Franklin."

  Although schools are exploring new avenues of learning to keep students abreast in a changing world, language programs are still a major focus in curricula. Since its founding in 1847, Jesuit High School has offered its students Greek studies. The class has become a pillar of its curriculum, says Joe Knight, chairman of the classics department.

"Greek is a foundation that teaches grammar, history, English and anthropological thought," he says. "It's an all-inclusive subject where humanities are concerned and is extremely educational. We're doing it the traditional way."

  For many schools, however, language classes have turned toward the East. Along with its immersion programs, the International High School offers Arabic to students who want to supplement their French and Spanish.

  "With the growing prevalence of the use of the Arabic language across the United States and the world, International High School feels that offering it as a course of study is essential for our students," school counselor Emily Landreneau says.

  Michelle Scandurro of St. Martin's Episcopal School says the idea of students getting involved in international business led St. Martin's to offer a Chinese class three years ago.

  "We thought about what our kids need to learn now to be successful in 20 years," she says. "As Chinese is the fastest growing language, we said, 'Let's do it.'"

  The International School of Louisiana gives its student a requisite Mandarin language class, and Benjamin Franklin's first year of offering Chinese is underway with students preparing for a visit to Beijing at the end of May. Every other year, Isidore Newman, which started Chinese classes more than 20 years ago, also offers students a chance to study in Taiwan and stay with a family there. Interested seniors at St. Mary's Dominican recently completed their first six-week Chinese course. Principal Carolyn Favre says due to the great response, the next six-week class will be offered to juniors, and she is searching for a certified teacher to make the class permanent.

  "We're trying to give our students an edge," Favre says.

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