Westridge Advanced Courses

Until this year, Westridge students had a tough decision to make when registering for their sophomore history course: take the course designated as advanced on their transcript (AP European History) or the one that offered the deepest learning, including significant opportunities for research and writing (The Modern World System). The new Crisis & Courage in Global History class that all sophomores take solves that conundrum, incorporating deeper learning principles and advanced course designation in a single course. 

"You get to understand the [subject matter] more and do more analysis, dive into it more deeply, and focus more on ideas and perspectives."

Crisis & Courage builds on the foundation of The Modern World System (already a great example of deeper learning) to provide a deep dive into the structures of the modern and contemporary world during periods of colonialism, revolution, industrialization. The most significant update in the course is its Challenge by Choice feature (CbC to students), which allows students to opt for Westridge Advanced Course credit by taking on expanded course requirements including additional reading and research, advanced-level writing assignments, and lunchtime “History & Pizza" discussions.

Already, teachers are noticing a difference in students’ thinking and work. “The writing is better, it’s more creative, it’s more analytical and they are demonstrating a more advanced understanding of history,” said History Department Chair Melissa Kelley. Upper School History Teacher Jennifer Cutler added that the focus isn’t on repeating information but on being able to apply it to different content and contexts. Crisis & Courage is also taught by Sandy de Grijs, who developed the Modern World curriculum.

More Discussion, Room for More Viewpoints & Curiosity

Teachers and students are excited about the expanded discussion and critical thinking allowed by the flexibility of the new course.  

“In this class, the difference is that you get to understand the [subject matter] more and do more analysis, dive into it more deeply, and focus more on ideas and perspectives,” said Eliza L.-S. ’25. “I think that’s a huge part of history other than memorizing dates and important people.”

“The nature of the AP curriculum led to a lot of me lecturing,” said Kelley. “With its volume of content, there was no room for discussion or creativity or the kind of research skills we want students to develop.”

According to Cutler, the CbC model aids class discussions. “It helps having the students (from both course levels) integrated in one class because you have kids who are thinking differently (about history) together in the same discussion. Everyone benefits.”

“Our first unit was my favorite so far,” said Marysa Y. ’25. “The unit question was 'Was Europe's takeover [of the world] surprising or unexpected?' …Why is everything in print in English now and not in Chinese? China had so many resources and could have easily colonized as Europe did. That is such an important question…it was extremely interesting and engaging to me. It just put into perspective how we're living today and how certain countries are still affected by Europe's colonization.”

Benefits of Challenge by Choice

While they remain in their same course sections, all students had the opportunity in November to opt in to CbC to receive Advanced Course credit. A little over half of the class chose the advanced option, an increase over typical AP Euro enrollment.

According to Kelley, the CbC model for advanced course selection is more developmentally appropriate for 15- and 16-year-olds than the AP course registration process, which required students to register for AP Euro (if they chose the course) in February of their freshman year.

“(In past years) we typically had a quite a few students who were miserable and overwhelmed because AP Euro just wasn’t the right place for them. Now, students get a chance to try on the advanced level to see if it is where they want to put their energies,” said Kelley. The teachers report that that while some students who expected to opt for advanced history credit decided to focus their time and effort in other disciplines, others unexpectedly discovered a deeper interest in history.

History and Pizza (HAPs)
Westridge Advanced Course History and Pizza

True to the name, HAPs are group discussions of history readings held over slices pizza. The monthly sessions, which are open to all students but required for those in CbC, are based on supplementary reading completed by students in advance of the HAP. Afterward, CbC students draft a reflection on the discussion and their participation in it.

HAPs are also designed to help students make connections between what they are learning in Crisis & Courage and their other coursework. Upper School English Teacher Max Duncan led a discussion on British writer Mary Wollstonecraft since the 10th graders read her daughter Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” in English while World Languages and Cultures Department Chair and Upper School Spanish Teacher Vicki Garrett led one on the Latin Revolution and poet José Martí’s book “Our America.”

“They’re deeper dives into things that were briefly mentioned in class like the idea of southernization,” said Marysa. “But then the HAP is a 20-page (scholarly) article on southernization. You really get a more well-rounded understanding of the event as a whole and other aspects.”

Crisis & Courage Course Highlights
  • Significantly more research, writing, critical thinking, and discussion than AP European History.
  • Students demonstrating more advanced understanding of history.
  • Entire course, including for those students who do not pursue the Challenge-by-Choice advanced level, is approved by the University of California as an honors course.
  • Allowing students to sample the advanced level of the coursework before committing to it in November provides a developmentally appropriate advanced course registration option for sophomores.
  • At the start of every unit students receive what de Grijs calls a “paquette” filled with teacher-curated primary and secondary resources—similar to a course reader at the collegiate level. Paquette sources include works from historians and journalists as well as newspaper and scholarly articles.
  • History & Pizza has been so popular that juniors and seniors requested a special session for upperclassmen—even though they aren’t in the course! (Sophomores Ella B. and Miranda F. designed and ran the special HAP session, which focused on the Battle of Liberty Place.)


Interested in our other advanced courses? Click here to read our students' thoughts on the Full Stack Web Development class and click here to read about Identity, Borders, & Revolutions: Advanced Cultural Studies in Spanish.


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