“The class is very unusual. I have no idea why this has happened,” said Bill Reeves, math teacher at Oyster River High School. Beginning within the first week of school, Reeves’ B-period AP Calculus class began to develop a bond unlike any class he’d seen.
“Some of us were already really good friends, and we’ve all been in similar math classes. We all bonded together for some reason over not only the fact that math class is hard, but also because we enjoyed it, each in our own ways,” said Jane Spear (‘19), a member of the calculus class.
Since the beginning of the year, the class has gathered together for a variety of reasons outside of class, including study sessions and celebrations for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines Day, and Pi Day. On Halloween, members of B-period Calculus could be seen walking the halls dressed as math terms such as ‘the Chain Rule,’ ‘a horizontal line,’ and ‘extrema.’
As a graduating senior, I’ve been a part of more class communities than I can count, yet I still can’t quite put my finger on what makes a class click. Corey Blais, English teacher at ORHS, gave insight into her experiences with students’ relationships in classes. “I think it’s all about the personalities in the class, how many people are friends, and whether that friend group has natural leaders,” she said. “If there is a personality that is a natural leader then other people start feeling more comfortable, which encourages people to speak because it feels like a safer spot,” she added.
Along with the reasons for class dynamic, Blais weighed in on the outcome of a close class saying, “it depends on what way they’re close. If they’re close in a very distracting way, it can sidetrack things a lot. If they’re bonded together in a more positive way, then it definitely improves the learning because more people are going to contribute and more people are going to participate.”
In my experience, B-period Calculus has encouraged students to contribute to conversation both in and out of the classroom. Spear explained how the dynamic began, saying, “we got together and laughed and related to each other’s stories. Before taking the class, we didn’t know each other well enough to know a lot of really personal things about each other, so it was interesting to be a part of all these different social groups and really get to know each other and laugh about old stories.”
Olivia Colarusso (‘19) agreed, explaining the benefit of having a supportive class on her ability to learn, especially in regards to the complex material that AP Calculus covers. “I’ve never been in a class like this where we’re all so close. It really makes the class a lot more fun and I look forward to being there.”
Charlie Haskell (‘19) has also seen a difference in her understanding while being a part of the class. Due to scheduling conflicts, Haskell moved from B-period Calculus to F-period Calculus during second semester. “I learned much easier in B-Period, and my grade was better. It’s a much better learning environment for me because I feel more comfortable asking questions and feel less self-conscious about not understanding concepts.”
A member of F-period Calculus, Bhargavi Nimoji (‘19), has heard quite a bit about the differences between the two class periods. “I’ve heard that [B-period Calculus] is a lot closer than our class, and that [their] group chat is always going off,” she said.
When you expose a group of high school students to a similar level of pain, they tend to bond together.-Johnson ’19
Sam Johnson (‘19) explained that class group chats are a common part of the culture of difficult classes. “Most of my classes, especially higher level and AP classes, have group chats, which helps people stay on top of things.” He attributed the bond between students in B-period Calculus to the difficulty of the material. “When you expose a group of high school students to a similar level of pain, they tend to bond together,” he said.
Along with the rigor of the course load, Felicia Drysdale (’19) also believes that having a teacher that is committed to creating a positive learning environment is also a big part of why the class is so close. “Mr. Reeves has a big part of our class bond because he’s always making jokes which triggers us to make jokes, which makes our class way more fun than any other class,” said Drysdale. “I think our bond is something that will never break. We all are very different people, but we have a lot in common that we didn’t realize. It brings us together because we’re all so different, and it makes us a fun group to be around,” she added.
Spear agreed that Reeves is a big contributor to the class environment, saying, “Mr. Reeves knows calculus really well, and he often uses real-world examples and applications of calculus that we can relate to.” After a few months in calculus, Spear participated in a 14-hour math challenge along with Jordan Zercher, Phoebe Lovejoy, and me. “When Phoebe saw a math challenge poster in the hall, we decided to do it because math was now something that we were excited about,” Spear explained. Our team was the only team from Oyster River High School to compete, and we placed in the top three teams overall for our math challenge video as well as in the top 20% of solution papers.
Along with participating in the challenge outside of school, students in calculus also frequently meet up after class for study sessions and homework help. “[This class] definitely continues the conversations about math beyond the classroom,” said Reeves.
Teachers across all departments at Oyster River High School have taught diverse cross sections of students, each with a unique class personality. Shauna Horsley, English teacher at ORHS, explained that there is an element of ‘chemistry’ between students in a class that determines how they will interact. “I have had sections of a class where the chemistry just wasn’t there, so regardless of the setup of the class, the bonding wasn’t going to happen. There are certain classes that lend themselves toward [bonding], and they often are very student centered where there is autonomy and opportunity for students to work with each other and rely on one another,” explained Horsley.
Horsley agreed with the sentiments of students in B-period Calculus that the rigor of a course also contributes to the connections between students. “When people are challenged, they tend to rely on each other either for academic or moral support, so by default, students are reaching out to each other after class to ask questions,” she said.
Along with course rigor, the material that is being covered is also a factor that Horsley has seen in her classes. “In classes like Women’s Literature, I tend to have groups that bond really well, and I think that’s because of how real some of the topics are that we talk about. We’ll dive into issues that we might not talk about in other classes and I think through a lot of discussion and trust which can be established through talking about some of these things, people tend to open up more and that leads to a [closer class],” she added.
Michael Szymanski (’21) agreed, saying, “I have definitely had classes where we’ve got really close, especially in classes where you’re dealing with more [intense] subjects.” Szymanski also added that classes with students from the same graduating class are also more likely to connect, saying, “as a sophomore now, I would definitely say that there were more cases of bonding classes because each class was all freshman. When you’re in a class with just your age group, there’s more opportunity to connect.”
Regardless of what exactly brought B-period Calculus so close together, the students are excited to finish the year with a group of people that are there to support them. “It’s something weird that brought us together and now we’re just this whole group of friends that are having fun,” said Spear.