Independent studies present alternative options

The independent study option allows junior and senior students to choose what they wish to learn, at their own pace.

Senior+Ella+Grossman+films+a+short+film+as+a+supplemental+for+college+during+October+2023.

Julia Gray '23

Senior Ella Grossman films a short film as a supplemental for college during October 2023.

Kaitlyn Ho '23, Reporter

The independent study option gives students the chance to explore their own interests within school hours, sometimes even for credit. 

Although independent study is not a replacement for school-mandated courses like math and language arts, it does permit students to study subjects from French films to knitting, or to take online courses. 

Senior Erich Boerth is knitting as his independent study, which he does fourth block with Special Education Teacher Ms. Sarah Holt as his adviser. 

If you are thinking about doing an independent study, Boerth advises you to seize your chance.

“I would say go for it,” Boerth said. “If you really have a passion to learn about something, or… it’s something that really piques your interest that you can’t explore with the school’s programs, I think that it’s a really helpful way to further develop yourself and you can kind of explore more.”

In order to propose an independent study, students must submit a detailed proposal to the administration that is co-authored with the advising teacher, who must be certified in the area of study. Students can choose to take the independent study for pass-fail or for a letter grade. Those who opt for the letter grade must complete a 10-15 minute presentation to a team of three or more faculty members, one of which must be a department chair, counselor, or administrator.

Senior Ella Grossman has a strong interest in film, and last year her independent study involved creating a five-minute short movie. This year, she is analyzing French films, and next semester, she will be filming a documentary on a small organic farm in Pennsylvania. 

“I think that there’s no reason to feel guilty about actively pursuing your passions and working hard towards something.””

— Ella Grossman '23

Grossman agrees with Boerth about taking the chance for an independent study, but advises that students should ensure they have some concrete plans.

“I think that I would just say, do it…I have had such an amazing experience,” she said. “But I think that it’s important that you know exactly what you want to accomplish and set a true set of goals. And so really use the time you have and really set those goals for yourself so that you’re able to accomplish something because last year, being able to finish a short film in a semester, that felt really amazing.”

Grossman had thought about potential guilt about taking an independent study as opposed to a more traditionally-structured class.

“There were times I was like, ‘I could be doing something else’,” Grossman said. “But in retrospect, I have intentionally chosen the studies to be something that I’m really interested in. And I think that there’s no reason to feel guilty about actively pursuing your passions and working hard towards something.

“Because [although] it may be really rewarding to get a five on an AP exam, being able to have work of your own that you’ve created and that you’ve worked really hard on, I think that there’s something even more fulfilling about that,” Grossman said. “I think that has helped me sort of understand and…just feel more at ease about maybe taking something that isn’t as rigorous.” 

Watch “Bucket List,” a short film created by Ella Grossman during her spring 2022 independent study.

The nature of her independent studies allowed her to work freely, though she still had a significant amount of support from her advisers.

“I feel like personally, I didn’t need a lot of assistance, it was just really great to have an adult. Someone there as a backbone, if I ever did need any help or if I ever needed any feedback, they were there. And they’ve always just been very supportive, letting me do what I need to do and checking in when they see fit,” Grossman said.

But advisers aren’t needed for every independent study. Some, like senior Jai Rastogi, are taking courses online, which don’t require an adviser. 

Rastogi also warns against getting sidetracked. He notes that with eighty minutes daily, five days a week, distractions can be tempting.

“Since there is no teacher who’s there to make sure that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it can be easy to get distracted talking to friends,” Rastogi said. “I’ve spent many, many blocks just working on college essays and some other classes and things of the like.”

“I think this amount of time is a gift that not many people really have when they’re taking a college class,” he said. “They won’t really have 80 minutes allotted for the class just to work each day—so use it well.”