CHHS offers college-level neuroscience course

Students engage in a lab under Nicole Zubik's guidance.  Photo courtesy of Nicole Zubik

According to Kenyon College, Cleveland Heights High School is the only school in the state, and one of a handful across the country, to offer its students a college-level neuroscience class. The one-semester course, new to Heights this year, is taught by Nicole Zubik. It provides students with four college credits from Kenyon, plus credit for one full year of high school science.

More than that, Introduction to Neuroscience: Perspective and Emotion gives students a glimpse into how their brains work. They ponder questions such as, Can we control our emotions or only how we react to them? and, What’s happening in our brains when we feel sad, angry, or happy?

Zubik brings everything back to hard science, connecting content to human brain development. The students appreciate that what they’re learning is relevant to their lives. “We actually learn how science relates to our emotional well-being,” said Nico, an 11th-grader. 

From a teaching perspective, Zubik appreciates the curricular freedom she has with College Credit Plus courses. She has more flexibility and an opportunity to work closely with a Kenyon professor. She described the class as “not about memorization. It’s about application to the real world. I really wanted to teach a course that was meaningful, especially after what these kids all experienced during the pandemic. Their emotional health is so important.” 

Students enrolled in the course for a variety of reasons. Several said they intend to pursue science or medical careers, such as senior Ngoye, who is also taking anatomy and plans to follow a pre-med track in college next year. “I knew getting this foundation would be beneficial to me,” she said.

Senior Jaiyah plans to major in biology [at college] and has taken this course along with anatomy, AP biology and AP psychology, which Jaiyah noted has "so many connections to neuroscience.”

The biggest reason that students say they gravitated to this course has nothing to do with the material being taught and everything to do with the person who’s teaching it. 

“Ms. Zubik’s name radiates around this school,” said senior Cameron.

”Everyone who’s ever had Ms. Zubik just raves about her,” said sophomore Sheriden.

“I like the vibe and energy of this class,” said Mosijah, who plans to major in film and photography [in college]. “It’s really about Ms. Zubik . . . she makes it all worthwhile.” 

That "vibe" is apparent as soon as one walks into the class: Students are eagerly engaged in discussion, and the room has a welcoming feel, with battery-operated candles on each desk replacing the typical glare of overhead lights. Many students return during their lunch periods, choosing to sit and talk with one another, or ask questions of their teacher, during their 40-minute break. 

Zubik said she is thrilled to be providing students with the opportunity to earn college credits without tuition payments or the need for transportation, stating, “This is what equitable access looks like.”

“I want the kids who are going to struggle with college-level work to struggle here with me, where they have the support,” said Zubik. 

Next year, students will have the opportunity to take another equally relevant course, Neuroscience of College Life: Sleep and Stress. Noting that she frequently receives e-mails or completed assignments from students at 2 or 3 a.m., Zubik said, “They really need to understand why sleep is so important to their brain development and ability to function.”

Students need a 3.0 GPA, or 2.7 with a teacher’s recommendation, to register for the Introduction to Neuroscience course. 

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a freelance writer under contract with the CH-UH City School District.

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Volume 16, Issue 4, Posted 10:49 AM, 04.02.2023