Independent Study Experience – by Cai McCann

This post was contributed by guest blogger and Burlington High School senior Cai McCann

Independent Studies (IS) is a phenomenal way to become involved with the community, get ahead in your studies, and generally “take the road untraveled.” As a senior at Burlington High School, I had already had experience with the traditional in-class courses for history, social studies, and civics. Furthermore, I had the drive to do study independently.

The kind of person who will get the most out of an independent study wants a new experience and challenge. They will find the motivation to troubleshoot when obstacles happen. Finally, they will aim to learn in an innovative, non-traditional setting.

Of course, first you need to come up with an idea.

Applying for Independent Studies:

For me, deciding to do an independent study course started the summer before senior year. (I didn’t know that IS existed within the BHS curriculum at that point.) Bernie Sanders began his presidential campaign for the 2016 election. I am a big fan and wanted to continue to be involved in the volunteer office during the school year. Other factors went into my final decision. I had taken two UVM English courses that counted toward my last required BHS English course. A history course wouldn’t fit into my schedule this year. In essence, I had no humanities course. Finally, I wanted to understand America’s political machine in a way that went beyond what was taught in 9th grade Civics. This is a very real process that affects all U.S. citizens, yet I didn’t have a clue how the political parties chose their candidates, and then how states chose representatives to the Electoral College. I also was unfamiliar with some of the finer points of how platforms were developed by the candidates.

Basically, I came up with the idea for an IS before designing the mini-course for it.

This process for choosing the IS topic of study may be different for you. The idea for the course may come before the design, or vice-versa. Your choice of topic should be something about which you are passionate.

Next, the design. The IS requires a structured proposal; three teacher recommendations; contacts that serve as supervisors both at BHS and at the IS site; and a teacher in an advisory role. The primary person at BHS with whom I communicated about my IS proposal was Ms. Amy Mills.

The proposal process was lengthy, but very helpful for clarifying my thoughts about how to go about what I actually envisioned for my IS.

I had talked and emailed with the interns at the Bernie 2016 campaign headquarters, explaining that I was interested in doing an IS with them. I established regular email and in-office communication with the volunteer coordinator, Austen Carpenter.

For the teacher recommendations, I chose teachers who I had for courses within the past three years, with a focus on history teachers because I wanted to do an IS in social studies. Then it was a matter of emailing them about the program and my plans. I made sure that I gave the teachers hardcopy of materials they needed to complete, and instructed them to either email or leave the copies with Ms. Mills.

Finding a teacher adviser may be the hardest part. It is also one of the most important parts. Meeting in person is key to your independent study for staying focused and getting the most enriching experience out of your independent study. I didn’t have a history teacher this year nor a clue where to start looking for an interested teacher. I asked for a recommendation from my 11th grade history teacher. He recommended me to Ms. Brock. From there, it was a matter of emailing about the time commitment, details of my IS, and her adviser role. We did finally meet; personal conversation is crucial because over the course of my IS studies, we held weekly, in-person tutorials. (Note: Communication and time commitment come up a lot in this whole experience.)

Now, you have established connections at BHS, New Pathways to Academic Credit program, and the IS site. Bravo! Time to start logging in the hours.

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