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Creating a Senior Independent Study at HW

By Alon ’21

One of the truly unique opportunities that Harvard-Westlake has to offer that I would highly recommend taking advantage of is the Senior Independent Study Program. This program allows students to study a topic of their own choosing, on their own time and design a corresponding curriculum to explore the topic in depth (and of course receive course credit for their work). Students usually chose areas of study that are not conventionally offered as proper courses at the school. The senior also picks one faculty member to act as their mentor, who oversees their progress and contributes their input and expertise.

As the name suggests, it is only open to students who are in the 12th grade, but I’d argue that this is not without good reason. There is already a multitude of somewhat unusual courses available at Harvard-Westlake through the Kutler Center for Interdisciplinary Studies such as the Business of Life, Abnormal Psychology, and Philosophy in Art and Science (the latter two of which I have taken and would suggest to anyone interested), which bring great breadth to the fields of knowledge explored at the school. With that being said, the Independent Study is very much an experience designed for students who have a very clear sense of their interests and have strong initiative to pursue the specific endeavor. By the time one has reached 12th grade at HW, there is lots of work and effort spent in the preceding years that allows students to gain a stronger sense of oneself.  This process involves exploring your strengths and weaknesses, refining your interests and involvement on campus and school associations, and comprehending your preferred learning techniques. There are various means in which this process occurs, ranging from the deans who work to advise their students, to LifeLab and other advisory style courses, and even the learning specialists and learning center spaces offered. Once a Wolverine has reached their senior year, they have a better sense of where their interests and skills lie which can help students hone in on a topic they’d like to study independently.

Logistically speaking, the Independent Study process begins with an application at the end of a student’s junior year. After picking a mentor, outlining a curriculum, and establishing your own soft deadlines, juniors present their concepts to the Independent Study Committee, which consists of a representative from every department. If accepted to pursue the study, the period in which you are “assigned” for this class is actually a free slot in your day, permitting you to do the work outside of school hours, if you so choose. You also meet to check in with your mentor periodically to gage your progress, which is quite helpful. The independent study then occurs over the course of a single semester (either first or second), culminating in a presentation to the Committee for grading.

While I am still navigating the early steps of the process and figuring it out, I am more than content with the decision I made thus far. My particular study falls under the performing arts department and is titled Direction and Production for the Stage. I want to continue studying theatre and hopefully direct and produce shows in the future, so I found this to be quite the opportunity since the other dramatic courses I have taken before at the Upper School (The Actor & The Stage I-II, Advanced Acting & Directing, Advanced Performance Studies) are far more focused on the performance aspect than on the conception of a piece of theatre.

Having been exposed to the skill set in classes and discovering an aptitude for it, I found this to be a perfect chance to get my feet wet in the world of directing. As of now, I am still making slight alterations to my plans and am browsing classic theatrical repertoire (in one-act form) to interpret. I will cast students on my own to explore the process, as this kind of discipline mostly requires experience from doing. I am trying to learn more about metatheatricality, the institution of Epic Theatre, and plan to research these subjects so that it ultimately influences my production. This is also a fantastic chance to learn from well-versed instructors who are experts on the subjects I want to gain more exposure to, like Ms. Spears, Mr. Pugh, and Mr. Walch, who have all directed shows at the school. Stay tuned for information on my production, as a presentation of some sort is slated for the end of the first semester!

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Tags: , , , Last modified: September 1, 2020