Eighteen Taft students spent the 2016-17 academic year engaged in an extracurricular course of study that was self-directed, individually prescribed, and driven wholly by passion. None earned course credit; no transcript or academic record will reflect the hours invested, or the depth and breadth of each student's personal and intellectual growth.
Established in 1964 by Headmaster John Esty, Taft's Independent Studies Program (ISP) was the first of its kind in the nation. Now, more than 50 years later, it continues to challenge Taft students to think about learning in new ways, offering ISP scholars both avenue and opportunity to extend their learning beyond the traditional curriculum. It is, in Esty's words, a "foray into new knowledge and new awareness of self," and part of his overall understanding that Taft, as a school, should "seek new insights, admit new knowledge, experiment with new methods, and be willing to accept new forms of old truths."
The program is open to upper mids and seniors, who are invited to submit project proposals to the ISP committee in the fall. Accepted students work with a project adviser throughout the year; they may also receive support and guidance from faculty volunteers serving on the ISP committee.
"ISP scholars create, research, and explore, purely for their own interest, purely to pursue their passions," explained ISP Director Dr. Amanda Benedict. "It is just for them—just to fulfill their intellectual curiosity—without consequence for failure. There is no stick with this program, only carrot."
Students presented their work at a school-wide ISP fair in May. The most outstanding senior projects were recognized with the David Edward Goldberg '62 Memorial Award at commencement. This year, for the first time, an upper mid project was also honored during the upper mid awards ceremony.
This year's ISP projects touched nearly every discipline, from the arts and environmental studies, to science and technology. There were portraits of faculty children as superheroes, a political survey of the Taft community, a study of the origins of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a look at coral reef conservation, and an assessment of leadership in ancient Rome, to name just a few. Take a closer look at a few more: