BY OLIVIA GIL
Among a sea of social studies classes and between periods of psychology, one can find Maricarmen Herrera teaching the new Women’s Studies class to her eighth period students.
Although this course is new to Cooper City High School (CCHS), it gained popularity and was a cause for conversation during the 2021 course selection season. Now, headed by Herrera, the Women’s Studies course sees a full class of eager and attentive students at the end of every B Day.
Just like the course itself, Herrera is new to CCHS …well, mostly. The 2021–2022 school year is Herrera’s first full school year teaching at CCHS, as she was introduced during the second semester of the 2020–2021 school year, to take over Mr. Franzone’s Psychology 1 classes.
Though Herrera is still new to CCHS, she isn’t new to teaching. She has experience working with a variety of age groups, from teaching instructional training and design in corporate America, to teaching eighth grade world history in a Miami-Dade middle school.
“I taught adults for five years before switching into education,” Herrera said. “I used to do instructional training and design for Fitbit … and with a lot of positive support and influence from friends, I just finally made the jump, [I took] the exam to be a teacher and switched over to teaching.”
Born and raised in South Florida, Herrera’s passion for teaching is innate. As a child, she found fun in instruction, and would often recreate classroom settings during her free time.
“I’m an only child, so I would line up the dolls in my room with post-its and play [teacher]. I realize looking back that it was fun to stand and explain,” Herrera laughed. “I’m a dork for explaining things I’m very passionate about.”
Later, when tasked with choosing a career path, Herrera decided to act on her inherent interest in teaching and pursued a small series of teaching positions that have led her to CCHS.
“I just got very lucky that Cooper City [High School] had the psychology position open,” Herrera explained. “Because that’s my strength, it’s what I majored in at FAU.”
Just as the Psychology 1 class piqued Herrera’s interests and brought her to CCHS, she was immediately drawn to the Women’s Studies course and jumped at the opportunity to teach it. Growing up, Herrera would always question why we abide by the norms of certain social institutions and discuss the effects they have on everyday life.
“I would call myself a feminist killjoy, because I would bring up patriarchal things to my friends,” Herrera said. “But now, through maturing, I have learned how to put that into a tunnel of discussion, where you can find something you can do about [social problems] and not just complain.”
Now, Herrera has the means to open that tunnel of discussion with her students. As she teaches an open-ended, adaptable course, where students help shape the curriculum through reviewing and evaluating current events.
The course itself focuses on topics such as famous women in history, analysis of text and how the patriarchy affects men, and women. The course also explores the deconstruction of terms, such as “cheugy” and “girl boss”, to evaluate their meaning.
The course’s flexible and discussion-based format has allowed the class to engage in in-depth conversations, where every student has the opportunity to voice their views.
“Everything is a big discussion,” sophomore Nirvani Bahadursingh said. “We discuss a lot of things, and we go into deep conversations a lot of the time. We get to hear everyone’s point of view and how we all think of things…I really love it.”
This unconfined aspect of the class has also allowed students to stay up to date with current issues surrounding women, as well as topics that interest the class, such as Supreme Court rulings or recent movements.
“Because [the class] doesn’t have a set curriculum we can be more fluid and up to date,” sophomore Hadley Turner said. “[We can] be current and talk about these issues that we really care about.”
In having these discussions, Herrera encourages her students to develop their own opinions. She stresses the importance of challenging oneself to form one’s own opinion on a subject, rather than taking on the opinion of someone else.
“I want the whole class to read the text, and [not only] see, ‘do they agree, do they not agree’ but really, critically analyze it,” Herera said. “I want everyone to take a moment and ask if that’s what they believe or not.”
Many students appreciate this analytical approach. As it allows them to dive deeper into the text and learn about the figures and events that are often brushed over in other social studies classes, such as the roles women played during wars and the contributions they made to social sciences.
“I’m really excited for this class… because it’s just so much stuff that we’ve covered already, that I have not learned about before,” senior Isabel Acanda said. “Because it’s so overlooked, it’s really good to have a whole class about it, so that we can dive deeper into [our history].”
CCHS’ Women’s Studies class is more than what meets the eye. It is an open-ended course driven by discussion and deliberation. That which teaches its students the importance of forming one’s own opinion and listening to those of others, headed by a teacher who is as enthusiastic about teaching the course as she is about the subject itself. Herrera wants her students to leave the class with a better understanding of how we treat each other and the stereotypes we cast each other in.
Herrera and her students hope that the Women’s Studies course gains enough popularity, to continue for years to come, so that the next generations of CCHS students can have a course to help them navigate what they see and understand its significance in our ever-changing world.
Photo courtesy of Sierra College