Meet the People Who Bring Middle School Electives Alive

The Slice – May 2014: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

Middle school is a time of exploration and discovery, when many students find the passion that will sustain them through high school, college and even their careers. In Palo Alto, thanks to donations from Partners in Education, middle school students have access to wide variety of elective classes to ‘spark’ an interest that could grow into a lifelong passion. The elective teachers in PAUSD, whose salary is supported in part by PiE, bring their talents, expertise and excitement to help with this pivotal exploration process. In this edition of the Slice, we meet three of these elective teachers and find out why they love to teach their specialty:

  • Susan Morosoli, the JTV teacher at Jordan
  • Tiffany Ou, choir and orchestra teacher at Terman
  • Fred Bergout, marine biology teacher at JLS

Susan Morosoli, JTV Teacher at Jordan

Sue MorosoliWhat is the JTV class?
Susan Morosoli, in her eleventh year at Jordan, teaches the Jordan TV (or ‘JTV’) elective class, where students learn about video and broadcast production and run a student-produced daily newscast. Using her background as a journalist and producer, Ms. Morosoli coaches the Jordan students to take charge of the whole JTV production, which builds responsibility and accountability. “I like how much independence Ms. Morosoli gives us,” says Emily Tomz, a senior producer. “It’s cool how we run the whole show.” With an eye towards building real life experiences, Ms. Morosoli structures the JTV so students can take on the tasks that are part of working in film and television careers.

Why is Ms. Morosoli passionate about broadcast journalism?
A graduate of UC Berkeley, Ms. Morosoli has experience as a director, producer and editor in film documentaries and television. Ms. Morosoli believes the JTV class is essential for children who are growing up in a digital world, saying, “Broadcast media explores the world globally and locally and is a creative form of communication that is prevalent in our society.”

How can students explore video production during the summer?
For students new to video production, Ms. Morosoli says that iLife from Apple is the perfect format for editing segments and creating music.

Tiffany Ou: Orchestra and Choir Teacher

Tiffany OuWhat do students learn in orchestra and choir at Terman?
In choir and orchestra, students develop their individual music skills and social skills by working with others, listening, and making decisions about how to improve. These music electives often give students an alternate way to shine outside of traditional academic classes in middle school. “Students struggling with other aspects of school often flourish in music,” Ms. Ou explains.

What is Ms. Ou’s background and why is she passionate about teaching music?
A graduate of UCLA, Ms. Ou grew up in the Bay Area and always found music to be her passion, social group, and safe haven. She carries this sentiment through to her classes today, explaining, “Students from all corners of our school come together during music class academically and socially to form a supportive group for each other.” She helps students develop creativity and proficiency through engaging classroom instruction and performance opportunities such as concerts.

How does Ms. Ou make a difference at Terman?
Terman’s principal Pier Angeli La Place sees music as central to her students’ middle school experience. “Tiffany Ou’s commitment to her students and to their successful participation in Terman’s music program is evident even before you step into her classroom. Approaching her room, you are met with student voices that may be light-heartedly warming up with musical exercises, may be in full joyful song, or may be engaged in a discussion about music and the enjoyment it brings to their lives. We are grateful to be able to offer such rich electives experiences as our choir and orchestras, which are made possible, in part, through PiE donations.”

What can students do to keep exploring music during the summer?
Ms. Ou says the best way for students to keep up over summer is to practice their instrument because so much of instrument playing and singing is muscle memory.

Fred Berghout, Marine Biology Teacher at JLS

JLS Marine BiologySQWhat do students learn in marine biology at JLS?
Mr. Berghout develops a myriad of interesting and hands-on labs for students, linking content to other science classes to reinforce what students have previously learned. Engaging field trips are also central to the elective. “The class gives students a different way to think about where they live. It’s a chance to take content outside the classroom,” says Mr. Berghout.

What is Mr. Bergout’s background and expertise in marine biology?
His background includes a degree in Environmental Biology and Management from UC Davis, work as a field biologist, and teaching at the Orange County Marine Institute, where his job included dressing like a hermit crab for a pre-school class and leading research on a floating ocean lab with college students. An 18-year veteran at JLS, Mr. Berghout is passionate about putting his work and research experience in environmental science to work in the classroom.

What can students do in the summer to keep learning about marine biology?
“Students should get outside and explore the local marine habitats,” says Mr. Bergout. “I suggest the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach as a good starting point.” He also recommends using the Shark Net app, which tracks tagged white sharks near California.