In a Class of Its Own | Honors Organic Chemistry Challenges Students at the Highest Level

By Tracy Jones
Photos by Nancee Lewis Photography

Parker offers a myriad of Advanced Placement and Honors classes that inspire students while showcasing the School’s academic rigor and excellence to college admissions officers. However, one course, Honors Organic Chemistry, may be in a class of its own. This college sophomore-level class is a rarity on high school campuses and a point of distinction and differentiation for Parker students ready to take on the challenge.
There are few high schools nationally that offer a full-year, Honors Organic Chemistry course,” said Dr. Hima Joshi, Parkerʼs future 6-12 Science Department Chair and the course's creator and instructor.

Dr. Joshi, who earned her Ph.D. in Bioorganic Chemistry from UCSD, taught General and Organic Chemistry at the college level for eight years, first at the University of San Diego and then at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

According to Dr. Joshi, college-level sophomores traditionally tackle the subject with mixed results. “It’s considered a ‘weed out’ course that students find so challenging that they often decide to change majors or even drop out of school,” she said.
The goal is to make college sophomore-level classes less daunting by introducing Parker students to the language of the course now. 

“Honors Organic Chemistry is the foundation for pre-med and many STEM majors, and is taken by aspiring doctors, nurses, pharmacists and anyone interested in health-related fields,” said Dr. Joshi. 

The opportunity to get ahead is what attracted Henry Diamond-Pott, Class of 2018, to the course. “I took A.P. Chemistry as a sophomore and Honors Organic Chemistry seemed to be a natural progression,” he said. “I think taking a class that’s not traditionally offered in high school will be to my advantage when applying to colleges. It helps to stand out.”

While considering a pre-med major, Henry is open to other areas of study. “Considering my interests, I think there’s a high likelihood I will run into organic chemistry in college. Not to mention that I really like Dr. Joshi, and she does a great job of teaching the class.” 

Last year, the Honors Organic Chemistry class was offered to 16 Parker students. With an increased interest this year, Dr. Joshi teaches two sections to 22 students.
“I am thrilled that we can offer a college-level science class to our aspiring young scientists,” said Paul Barsky, Head of the Upper School. “The popularity of the course is evidenced by the enrollment and the enthusiasm that students demonstrate as they work through their labs.” 

Frannie Lang, Class of 2018, came to the class after taking Advanced Chemistry her sophomore year. One of the few students to not take A.P. Chemistry first, Frannie has succeeded in keeping up and thriving in the stimulating environment.
“After Advanced Chemistry, I was in love with the subject and intrigued by Organic Chemistry in particular,” she said. “I want to go into nursing and knew that having a foundation in ʻO Chemʼ now would give me an advantage when I study it in college.” 
To interested students without an A.P. Chemistry background, Frannie suggests, “Take the leap and sign up.” 

Parker’s version of the course is taught at the same pace as its college-level counterpart. “The main difference is that I have half the time with the students,” said Dr. Joshi. Parker students spend three and a half hours in lecture and lab work versus the seven hours college sophomores typically encounter in a week.
“Last year, after completing a full year of study, Parker students reached the mid-year point of my college curriculum. This year’s classes are on target to reach the same mark,” she said.

When describing the curriculum, students kept repeating the same word: fun. From building molecular models, to hands-on lab work and isomer team projects, to abstracting fat from fast and junk foods, it’s always fast-paced and exciting. 
“It’s a fun class despite it being a challenging topic. I like looking at the practical use of chemistry. And it’s that mix that keeps it interesting,” said Henry. 

“Dr. Joshi’s passion is contagious. That translates to the way she teaches and you feel that as a student. And it’s fun to see how everything in the world works on a molecular level,” added Frannie.

The class is unique in that the students are very much in charge of the pace. “Our students have the opportunity to let organic chemistryʼs unique language, lingo and jargon sink in before they see it again in college,” said Dr. Joshi.

“We have concepts and lessons each day, but if one question sparks a discussion, thereʼs the freedom for exploration,” said Frannie. 

When students think of lab work and model-building projects as fun, it diminishes the fear and intimidation many college sophomores feel upon hearing their first lecture.
“Yes, itʼs sometimes challenging—you do have to work for it, and organic chemistry is not a walk in the park by any means. But thatʼs why itʼs so rewarding,” said Henry.

“How exciting that our students want to be challenged at the highest levels. It is a true testament to the spirit of learning here at Parker.”
- Paul Barsky, Head of Upper School
Francis Parker School is a private, independent, coeducational, college preparatory day school for students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12 from across San Diego County. Founded in 1912, the Lower School is located on the Mission Hills Campus with the Upper and Middle Schools on the Linda Vista Campus. Parker's mission is to inspire a diverse community of independent thinkers whose academic excellence, global perspective and strength of character prepare them to make a meaningful difference in the world.

Mission Hills Campus Lower School

4201 Randolph Street
San Diego, CA 92103

Linda Vista Campus Middle/Upper School

6501 Linda Vista Road
San Diego, CA 92111
858 / 569-7900