HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Oakcrest High School is changing its approach to electives.

Beyond the classics, the high school is adding new courses, including “Documentaries: Film & Photo” and “History of Rock and Roll.”

The faculty developed the courses as a way to peak student interest and prepare them to understand what could be involved in future careers in these industries, said Susan Foreman, supervisor of social studies, performing arts and English language literacy.

“We are so lucky to have so many teachers that put student interests at the forefront,” she said. “They go out on their own and propose these (classes), and we have support from the board to make it come into fruition.”

Since the classes began in September, Foreman said she hears the buzz in the hallways from students who want to take the classes next year.

Adapting electives to students’ interests has been a trend, Foreman said. Other electives at the school include catering, in which students learn to prepare meals for events; abnormal psychology; environmental sciences; and military history, in which students learn about possible careers in the military, she said.

“It’s going with the culture,” she said. “The culture is changing, and the interests are changing.”

Media teacher Jason Thomas, who helps run the school’s television channel and teaches another film class, developed the documentary class over three years with colleague Charles Lockwood after students showed interest in that type of filmmaking.

“For them, it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s a modern, relevant type of storytelling.”

Thomas will spend the first half of the year teaching photography and visual storytelling, assigning his students to develop a portfolio with pictures. The second half of the year, the students will make their own documentary film, he said.

“I try to give them the freedom to explore what they want to do,” he said. “It’s a way to open people’s minds. They have a lot of power and can tell a lot.”

Sophomore Gabrielle Johnson, 15, said combining photography and films is the perfect class for her. The Mizpah resident said she loves to tell stories and is learning new ways to do it effectively.

“It’s the greatest thing in the world,” she said. “Now all I need is chocolate on Fridays.”

Senior Brittany Connelly, 17, said she wants to become a professional filmmaker and that the class will teach her the basics of what she needs to know.

“Not only does it help the creative side of you, it helps your confidence,” the Mays Landing resident said. “You have to go out and talk to people and ask them to tell their stories.”

Music teacher Rick Schwartz, who is also the school’s band teacher, started his rock ’n’ roll history course with music from the 1940s, such as early American pop and big-band jazz, and hopes to span through the grunge and alternative music of the 1990s.

So far, the class has covered famous artists such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Schwartz shows his students a lot of videos of performances by the musicians and tries to show them how they influenced one another over the decades.

“The first day, I gave a quiz. I asked them, ‘What do you know?’” Schwartz said. “Then I gave them a list of bands and asked, ‘What do you know about them?’ Surprisingly, they did know a lot.”

Senior Matt Mazzone said he grew up listening to many classic rock bands, especially the Beatles, and the Mays Landing resident said he’s excited to learn the origins of the music.

“Music is responding to what’s going on in the world or reflects what’s going on in the world,” he said.

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