Creativity in Classes; Electives at SYA Spain

Lili S. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C.

One thing that I never knew about SYA before orientation was the variety of elective classes that are offered. SYA is far from a typical school for many reasons, some more obvious than others. Of course, there are the living with new families, independent travelling, and classes in different language aspects, but another big part of my year has been the creative and unique class electives that I’ve been taking since September. SYA Spain offered nine elective classes this year: Theater, Cinema, Contemporary Art History, Prensa (media studies), Spanish Literature, AP Spanish Literature, Economics, Sociology, and Environmental Science.

My three elective classes are Spanish Literature, Contemporary Art History, and Prensa. Our Spanish Lit class has read four novels and a series of short stories over the course of the year, and our final project has been to read a novel with a partner and explain its plot, summary, characters, time, space, and, finally, our opinions on the book. Every Thursday, we have a period of creative writing. For first semester, these pre-lunch Thursday periods were filled with writing about music or paintings we were shown in class, but this semester we have been writing our own stories. At the end of the year, we will create a book out of all of the stories we have written, which all have a common theme: all of the stories are set in the year 1926. Mine is about a ten-year-old girl growing up in Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Literature has been a great way to not only learn about Spanish as a language, but also to gain a deeper understanding of Spanish culture and history—one book we read was about the terrorist group ETA in San Sebastian in the late 20th century, and one was a modern novel based here in Zaragoza. I look forward to our lit discussions daily, and love how open our teacher is to new ideas.

Art History never fails to bring new insight to how I view art. Starting with Roman and Neolithic Art from the Middle Ages, we are finishing the year with Surrealism, which was a movement during the 1900’s. Art History is the best way to start your day and get you to wake up, and also the best way to de-stress after a long day. We often have lectures about whichever artistic movement we are currently studying and then analyze pieces of art from that time period, always following up with a test and often a creative project, such as an essay about the influence of music in impressionism, a collage styled after cubism, or obras abiertas, a project in which we made poems out of cut up newspapers, randomly organizing words to make incomplete sentences, styled after futurism. This year, we were lucky enough to visit Paris as a class to see many of the paintings we had been studying all year. I’ve always liked museums, but I’ve never had the patience to look at paintings for more than about two minutes. In Paris with our class, seeing paintings that we had been studying for months, gave me a completely new experience. I could point out small details, objects, and techniques used by certain painters. I could give context for what time period that paintings were from, and I could explain underlying messages and themes. Art class is a great way to combine learning history and culture with creativity and art; it definitely is more of a history class than an art class, but the combination of the two is done really well in SYA.

Prensa is my third elective. The direct translation for prensa in English is “press”, but this class is so much more than that. We started off with learning about the way that the press communicates with the public, following that up with a deep dive into how the specifics of newspapers, and then articles, chronicles, interviews, reports, editorials, and opinion pieces. Second semester, each student has had a presentation in which they create a PowerPoint about a topic they are passionate about and then lead the class in a discussion about this topic. We also have been working on our own newspaper since the beginning of the year, and we are almost finished. Each person has their own page, which includes 4-6 articles, some pictures, and sometimes an infographic or an interview as well. We read articles weekly from local papers, explaining to our peers what we’ve learned every Thursday during class. Prensa has been a great way to get a sense of how media, press, and communications work in our society.

My electives, although challenging in the beginning because they are in Spanish, have added infinitely to my year here in Spain. I love that SYA offers more than the typical American high school classes, instead branching out to explore subjects we could really only learn in Spain.

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