Independent Study Program: On the Rise
Ever had a special interest in biblical Greek or music theory? Perhaps you wish you knew more about the anatomy of a shark? Such topics may not be represented in the Packer curriculum, but they’ve all been studied by students in the independent study program. Despite a fluctuating number of applicants and a lack of publicity, the program continues to prosper.
Following a record number of 43 participants in the spring of 2016, last fall showed a prominent dip in participation, with a total of 18 students engaged in various studies. The decline may not indicate a lack of interest in the program among students, but rather the effect of the schedule change in conjunction with the program’s requirement for free time. Although the new schedule’s emphasis on free time benefits the program, it can also be detrimental to a study’s scheduled meeting time.
“This year because I have three independent studies I’ve scheduled them during community time, which can be tricky because events happen during community time that one doesn’t necessarily know about until about a week before” said Mr. Weisberg, English teacher and skilled mentor. “Two of the independent studies I do on creative writing have had a hard time meeting on a fairly regular basis.”
Although some studies run into problems, others don’t struggle with any time issues what so ever.
“I have a free period that I can use for my independent study, and my mentor happens to have the same free available,” said Drew, who has been studying music theory with Mr. Riggio for over a year. “Timing isn’t a problem for me, but I see how it could be difficult for some other people.”
With a total of 29 upper-school students engaged in the program this spring, it seems that despite and conflicts with the schedule, students are willing to commit themselves to their studies.. The organization of the program is also quite flexible. Each student is only required to meet with their mentors once a cycle, write one mid-semester reflection and create 2-3 project presentation at the end of the semester.
“The success of it purely comes from students and faculty, because all we really do is set a deadline for the application at the beginning of the year,” said Ms. Bishop.
With such limited requirements, student’s studies rarely leave their once-a-week meetings or reach the Packer community.”Promotion of the program is purely word of mouth,” continued Ms. Bishop.
Mr. Weisberg argued that the air of confidentiality around each study is what makes the program so unique.
“Independent studies are not taken for academic credit,” he urged. “They’re purely independent.” Unlike a senior thesis, which require each student to presentation to the rest of the community, these studies are investigative, creative and educational projects for the sole purpose of fueling student’s pressing questions and queries, occasionally educating the mentors as well.