PACE Program Incorporates Changes to Curriculum, Application Process and Student Feedback Process

The curriculum of the Personal and Community Education (PACE) Seminar for Lowers features several revisions this year. These revisions include expanded units on stress, hazing and bullying, a larger group of PACE Seniors selected through a recently-created application process, a plan for multimedia curriculum supplements, leadership building activities for PACE Seniors and more opportunities for student feedback.

PACE, a mandatory term-contained course for Lowers, provides a forum for open discussion of issues ranging from peer pressure and hazing to drugs, alcohol consumption, gender and sex. Each PACE class contains around 15 students and a faculty member and a Senior leader who guide conversation.

The topics discussed in the seminar vary depending on their relevance to current events, according to Carlos Hoyt, PACE Coordinator and Associate Dean of Students.

This year, the curriculum of PACE classes changed to focus on bullying and hazing in response to recent news stories that have led to new school and state regulations about these issues. Last January, Andover drafted its own anti-bullying plan, which was created in accordance with a Massachusetts state law enacted in the spring of 2010.

PACE classes are also changing to include discussions about students’ stress. Hoyt said that a new “PACE Weekly Stress Check” has been implemented in PACE sections to help students organize their commitments and deal with their stress.

According to Brandon Wong ’12, a PACE Senior, the seminar typically begins with topics students may feel more comfortable talking about in order to gradually ease classes into more difficult discussions later in the term. However, the course is flexible and molds to the personality and interests of the student group.

Wong said, “It’s very easy to start talking about the disadvantages and advantages of being male and female early in the term for our gender session, whereas race is usually a trickier topic that’s better dealt with later on.”

The selection process for PACE Seniors also changed last year. PACE Seniors are responsible for helping faculty coordinators prepare weekly lessons and for directing class discussions.

In previous years, PACE Seniors needed only to inquire about the position and interview informally with Hoyt. Because of increased interest in the position in recent years, the PACE faculty decided to establish a formal application process.

In the spring of 2011, 80 rising Seniors applied for 11 available positions.

This year’s PACE Seniors are Wong, Chris Nanda ’12, Anthony Tedesco ’12, Charles Horner ’12, Zachary Sturman ’12, David Russell ’12, Brianna Barros ’12, Asia Bradlee ’12, Collin Benedict ’12, Chelsea Ward ’12 and Tia Baheri ’12.

Hoyt and other PACE faculty members also began organizing trips for accepted PACE Seniors to help them transition into their new leadership roles.

Wong enjoyed going zip-lining with his fellow rising PACE Seniors last spring. “I think that bonding experiences like that one set the tone for our group,” he said.

According to Hoyt, PACE Seniors from the Class of 2013 will go on an overnight trip to Thompson Island, located in Boston Harbor, where they will participate in activities hosted by Project Adventure, a non-profit that offers leadership and teamwork-building programming.

Barros, who decided to apply after noticing an increase in police action against underage drinking, said that PACE was “the perfect way to lead and learn from other people in the school I wouldn’t normally interact with.”

Ward said, “My PACE experience [as a Lower] was awesome and inspired me to pursue a position as a PACE Senior.

Benedict said she hopes that PACE classes in the future spend more time getting to know one another in order to increase the comfort level in class discussions. Benedict said, “I wish everyone felt as comfortable as I do in class.”

PACE leaders are continuing to look for new activities, especially those involving multimedia, to incorporate into the future curriculum.

This spring, Andrew Schlager ’12 plans to work with Hoyt to create videos depicting hypothetical scenarios. The videos will present scenarios in which students are faced with dilemmas involving issues discussed in PACE, such as drinking, engaging in sexual activity or helping a friend in trouble.

Hoyt said, “When students see their peers [in videos] depicting scenes that are pretty true to life of their own school experience, it makes it easier to have some very sensitive conversation about some hard choices that [students] have to make.”

Before the creation of the PACE Seminar, a “Life Issues” Seminar for Lowers addressed drug and alcohol abuse and psychological disorders. In 2007, Hoyt restructured the program to create the current PACE program.

In 2008, Hoyt invited Seniors to help plan the PACE curriculum. Hoyt hoped the Seniors could serve as an intermediary between the Lowers and the faculty leader.

“What’s in the curriculum now is based in great part on what the PACE Seniors said would make sense,” said Hoyt.

Hoyt said that student surveys taken both before and after the PACE Seminar have shown that the program has been successful in educating students about issues such as drinking, dating and sex.

“It’s clear that the Lowers are leaving with some knowledge about these topics that they didn’t necessarily have coming in,” Hoyt added.

Hoyt said that he ultimately hopes to make the seminar a psychology class for PACE Seniors that earns them credits. PACE Seniors are tasked with determining their student group’s personality in order to effectively guide its discussion, according to Hoyt.

Hoyt added that he hopes to preserve the seminar’s candid and open atmosphere that encourages Lowers to speak their minds.

In order to avoid interfering with students’ schedules, the PACE seminar meets once a week during double lunch or free periods.