Innovations in Learning
A Taft education goes beyond the traditional delivery of a core curriculum.Our students develop the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind to be lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and responsible global citizens. Experiential and applied learning transforms theory into practice, knowledge into understanding, and passion into action. Through study away, self-directed programming, and partnerships with world-class institutions, Taft students are prepared to not only thrive in the 21st century, but to lead the way as globally literate, intellectually robust, and ethically principled citizens of an increasingly interconnected world community.
In 1964, our Independent Study Program was a groundbreaking concept. It was the first program in the country to allow innovative, scholastically advanced students to pursue a project of their own interest with the rigor, time, and discipline often expected of college students. More than 50 years later, it presents both avenue and opportunity for Taft students to pursue their interests and passions and fulfill their intellectual curiosity, in concert with their curricular studies.
Each year, approximately 20 students—mostly upper mids and seniors— are accepted into the ISP, about half of the number who apply. ISP students select an advisor for the program, and receive additional support and guidance from a committee of faculty volunteers; the students are exempted from their afternoon obligations and receive a modest allowance from the school for project-related materials and travel. The yearlong program emphasizes that the journey is as important to the project as the ultimate destination. Student projects—displayed or performed—are presented in early spring.
Since the inception of the program, Taft students have completed more than 1,000 independent study projects in all fields of learning, from writing and recording original music in Taft’s digital recording studio to designing a photovoltaic cell. Students have produced plays, crafted musical instruments, delved into British history, built websites, studied soil microbiology, explored biofuel technology, and so much more. Projects vary widely, limited only by our students’ creativity.
ISP was the making of my time at Taft. I felt I was breathing intellectual oxygen.
—Arthur Waldron ’66, one of our first ISP students, now the Lauder Professor of International Relations and Chinese History at the University of Pennsylvania
—Amanda Benedict and Ken Hincker, Independent Studies Program Directors
It is clear, now, what generates continued enthusiasm for the ISP: the opportunity for an idea or for a passion to take on new form and new dimensions. Each year the new participants benefit from the cross-pollinating among projects, and these special students become aware that the invisible rewards—pride, confidence, and self-knowledge—are often the most durable.
In addition to our ISP program, Taft offers seniors the opportunity to demonstrate their genuine passion beyond the limits of the curriculum, to reflect on their learning at Taft, and to exhibit publicly the ways in which they embody the Portrait of the Graduate through a Senior Project. The Senior Project requires not only independent work, but also sustained and thorough reflection of what each individual has learned and become, fulfilling our mission to educate the whole student. Senior projects are short-term projects completed during the spring term.
Taft archives all completed projects to weave seniors' signature experiences, learning, and awakenings into the celebrated history of the institution.
When a student is interested in continuing a study within a discipline beyond the most challenging course offered at Taft, they may apply for an independent tutorial. The independent tutorial is a for-credit, assessments-inclusive course designed jointly by teacher and student; it may run a single semester or a full academic year.
Taft is a member of the Global Online Academy (GOA), giving students access to a wide-range of non-traditional courses, as well as a network of people and resources from more than 60 independent schools around the world. GOA students are global citizens and modern learners, working in an environment where curiosity and passion drive learning. Students log in multiple times a week to engage in discussions, collaborate on projects, and apply knowledge in creative ways.
Most GOA courses are asynchronous; students are not expected to show up at one place at one time every day. Classes are capped at 18 students to maximize collaboration with both teachers and other students.
For nearly five years Taft and The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) have enjoyed a growing and meaningful partnership. Taft welcomes NYBG staff to campus several times each year for a scientific lecture series, and the Garden welcomes Taft students not only to its legendary grounds each year, but also to its classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and research spaces. Taft students work side-by-side with renowned scientists and college and graduate students during summer internships, conducting advanced research that has included collecting, developing, and digitizing assets for the 2.3 million specimen C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium, and devising a rapid DNA extractor for use by botanists in the field.
Taft students have also worked in collaboration with the Sustainable Aquaculture Initiative out of Woods Hole, MA, to develop a small scale tilapia aquaculture model to benefit upland Haitians by growing fish to an edible size with little time or resource input, and with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), Marine Biology Lab (MBL), US Geological Survey (USGS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
It bodes well for the school to be aligned with one of the best research and education institutions in the world. It demonstrates not only the tremendous opportunities available to Taft students, but also the esteemed position Taft enjoys in the larger community.
—Paul Parvis, Taft School, NYBG partnership founder
Our school is an international community—a forum for widely diverse points of view and a laboratory of global issues. Our diverse student body makes this inherently so; programs that extend learning beyond Taft’s classrooms—both at home and abroad—enrich our community with newfound perspectives.
There are many study away programs and opportunities available to Taft students. Representatives from study travel groups visit campus throughout the year, and our faculty can also make informed recommendations. Programs popular with Taft students include:
- School Year Abroad (SYA)
- The Island School
- Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki
- Mountain School
- High Mountain Institute (HMI) Semester
- Summer Programs
- Arabic Year at King's Academy
Upper mids and seniors many spend one or two semesters studying in China, France, Italy, or Spain with School Year Abroad (SYA). Recognized as a leader in foreign study excellence for more than 50 years, SYA offers a challenging and competitive academic curriculum, designed to facilitate the mastery of a second language while deepening cultural awareness and understanding. Nearly all SYA courses are taught at the AP or Honors level; native speakers teach all courses conducted in the local language.
Founded in 1998 with the goal of conserving the wild marine life population by providing alternative food sources and jobs for the people of South Eleuthera, Bahamas, The Island School offers Taft students an opportunity to fulfill the requirements of a traditional academic program while pursuing intensive work in marine biology and environmental science. The Island School offers programs during the fall and spring semesters, and during a summer term. The program is place-based, immersive, and experiential; all courses have a field component to them, which may include work at a government-sponsored research station. The program also incorporates physical and outdoor education components: Not only do students spend five mornings each week training for either a half-marathon or four mile open-ocean swim, but also they participate in two sea kayaking trips and earn PADI’s Open Water Diver certification.
Designed for upper mids, Maine Coast Semester at Chewonki students live and work on a 400-acre saltwater peninsula, with the goal of exploring the natural world through rigorous courses in natural science, environmental issues, literature and writing, art, history, mathematics, and languages. The community is small—42 students and 15 faculty members—and the application process is competitive. The one-semester program is built to stimulate intellectual engagement, community involvement, articulate expression, a sense of place, and a sense of self.
Each semester the Mountain School welcomes 45 motivated high school juniors from all over the world to the school’s farm in rural Vermont. Students and faculty build a community based on trust and an appreciation of differences, and create an academic and work-based community in which every voice matters. Courses provide a demanding, integrated learning experience that takes advantage of the school's small size and mountain campus. Balancing intellectual inquiry and experiential learning, the curriculum challenges students to think flexibly, speak their minds, and return to their schools equipped for continued academic success. Engagement with the farm and forest sparks an appreciation for their food, their fuel, and their labor. Admission is selective.
The HMI Semester is a unique opportunity for academically motivated high school juniors and seniors, to spend one semester in the Rocky Mountains and the canyons of Utah. Students spend 12 weeks taking honors and AP-level classes that are place-based; students also spend five weeks on backpacking and skiing expeditions. Sustainability plays a key role in the HMI community. Students live in comfortable, but off-the-grid cabins while on campus. HMI’s signature combination of academics, wilderness, and small, intentional community leave students feeling confident, independent, comfortable with themselves, and ready to take advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead.
Taft mids and upper mids may spend a full academic year at King’s Academy in Madaba-Manja, Jordan. The Arabic Year (AY) program offers intensive Arabic language study, Middle Eastern cultural immersion, and experiential learning.
King’s Academy is an American-style boarding school modeled after Deerfield Academy. Students accepted into the AY program must be committed to the work necessary to access a difficult language, and be willing to face challenges that inspire self-reflection and a consideration of new and different perspectives. The curriculum is informed by the King’s Academy guiding principles of respect, love of learning, responsibility, an integrated life, and global citizenship.
“Arabic Year at King’s Academy (AY) provides interested young men and women an unprecedented opportunity to study Arabic and explore the culture and traditions of the region. This is a critically important moment in the history of the Middle East. Because of Jordan’s unusual position in the region, we are uniquely placed to provide adventurous young men and women with a powerful and, we hope, transformative educational experience at Arabic Year.”
—King’s Academy Headmaster John Austin