The Benefits of Electives and Extracurriculars in College-Prep Education
By Blithe Wiley
According to many education experts, a well-rounded approach to a college-prep education can develop critical thinking skills, nurture creativity, and foster a better understanding of diverse cultures and perspectives. Families in San Antonio have many highly regarded educational options for their students that provide challenging academics while also emphasizing the important role of electives and extracurricular activities in developing graduates who are prepared for success in college and beyond. Two of these educational options are the seven local BASIS Ed Texas charter schools and the independent school, Saint Mary’s Hall.
BASIS Ed Texas Charter Schools are open enrollment, tuition-free public charter schools serving students in grades K-12. Dr. Peter Bezanson serves as CEO of the parent organization BASIS Educational Ventures, while his wife, Patti Bezanson, is CEO of BASIS ED Texas.
In 2022, BASIS Texas Charter Schools was tied for the Number One School District in Texas per the TEA’s School Accountability Ratings. (TEA’s 2023 Accountability Ratings haven’t yet been released.) As of the 2023-24 school year, BASIS San Antonio Shavano, which serves grades 6-12, was named the 2023 Number One high school in San Antonio by U.S. News & World Report.
According to Peter Bezanson, BASIS Ed Texas schools provide the most advanced curriculum of any school in Texas. “The average BASIS Charter School student takes 12 Advanced Placement courses before they begin their senior year,” he said. “While our schools place a heavy emphasis on academics, we also pride ourselves in providing a ‘Work Hard and Play Hard’ environment. It’s very important to offset the academic rigors with activities that are fun and that provide a release valve.”
BASIS Ed Texas offers a wide range of electives, including astronomy, personal finance, ceramics, photography, and robotics, to name a few. “Most of our electives are more exploratory and more project-based,” explained Bezanson. “They complement our heavy emphasis on academics.”
BASIS Ed Texas also offers students a wide array of extracurricular activities and clubs. “Just a few of these are the Advancing Herpetological Awareness Club, the Board Game Club, the Creative Writing Club, and the Pokemon Club,” Bezanson said. “They are very driven by the interests of our students and teachers.”
Saint Mary’s Hall was founded in 1879 on the principles of knowledge, self-confidence, and respect for others. Today, it is an independent and coeducational school for students from Montessori (age 3) to Form (grade) 12.
Adrian Viccellio, Social Studies Department Chair and Coordinator for Off-Campus Programs said the school is a huge believer in the power of experiential education. “Here at Saint Mary’s Hall, we focus on a dynamic portrait of learning to stretch our students and prepare them for success in college and fulfillment in life,” Viccellio explained.
Viccellio, who teaches several courses, including Global Studies and a college-level History of Modern Africa course, also oversees the school’s summer enrichment programs, such as Summer at the Hall and the global experiential programs to South Africa, Hawaii, Costa Rica, and other locations.
Beyond the AP curriculum and advanced coursework, the Saint Mary’s Hall curriculum offers students the choice to sample various elective subjects such as different languages and various visual and performing arts. The school offers numerous extracurricular opportunities for its students, including Model UN, where students navigate global issues such as human trafficking, and a variety of summer scholars programs where the students work alongside professionals at institutions such as the Alamo, McNay Museum, Southwest Research Institute, and Saint Mary’s University.
“These types of interdisciplinary opportunities allow our students to create real-world solutions in their college-prep experience,” said Viccellio. “Colleges want to know if prospective students are ethically prepared to change the world. We believe they are.”