Downsizing Discussion

Like most Lowers last Winter Term, I began my term of PACE apprehensively, with the course taking up my third-period double every Thursday and ruining a perfectly good weekly sleep-in. After only two weeks, however, my mind had completely changed: my PACE class included only five other Lowers, and I relished the learning opportunity afforded by the small group. Based on my experiences, I believe PACE would be far more rewarding and educational if class sizes were capped at ten students. PACE is an opportunity for “Lowers to relax, reflect, and discuss topics germane to healthy adolescent development,” according to the Course of Study. In order for these conversations to be productive and informative, it is paramount that students participate. For this to happen, however, students must feel comfortable being open with their classmates. I personally found that in my tight group of six, it was easy to get over the initial discomfort of PACE class: there weren’t high stakes, and we all came to know each other so well that we didn’t worry about being judged or judging each other for what was said. After talking with my peers, I found that many in larger PACE classes had had very different experiences. Christian Cruz ’16 said, “I think the PACE Seniors really wanted us to get to know people in our grade whom we’ve never spoken to in a way in which we couldn’t have with such a large group. It was tough to talk about topics like race, gender [and] socioeconomic class… not to mention your own experiences with all of these topics when you have 12 [or more] kids staring at and watching you. It’s always hard to open up to people who you don’t know, and PACE wasn’t comfortable or long enough for that dynamic to change.” In the same vein, Jessica Schmitt ’16 articulated other negatives to having a larger class, adding, “I definitely think that it was hard to find a place to fit your comment into discussion before the topic passed. It was also difficult to be in a group with so many people and perspectives who had the capacity to be very judgmental.” Large PACE classes are often counterproductive, making open dialogue about serious issues uncomfortable, thus leaving many questions, comments, concerns and perhaps even misconceptions unaddressed. My first thought was the school could add PACE classes in the Fall Term, holding sessions all three terms. Rem Remmel ’14, a current PACE Senior, said, however, that he “[didn’t] think it would be helpful… to teach a class all three terms. Fall Term was extremely helpful in preparing [PACE Seniors] to teach to the best of our abilities.” My next idea was that the PACE program should incorporate more than just 12 Seniors each year, which would not only allow for smaller class sizes, but would also address the increasing volume of PACE Senior applications, as over 70 current Uppers applied this year. In response to this, Remmel added that “more PACE Seniors would detract from the quality of discussion between the Seniors themselves, since the PACE Senior group is supposed to mimic a PACE class in many ways.” My final proposal is instituting a “double” PACE program, which I think is the most realistic and simple. With a double PACE program, the course could be run normally, but with two groups of ten to 12 Seniors that would teach separate sets of PACE classes and meet independently. Ultimately, PACE classes with fewer Lowers would be more comfortable, with open dialogue replacing reluctant conversation. Tweaking the program we have now to achieve this goal is no small task, but I believe that if we do, PACE would be far more rewarding to all who participate.