Allow independent study options

Erica Martinez, Distribution Manager

This story was originally featured in the September Issue of the Arapahoe Herald

There was a time when students went to school with a smile on their face, but we are no longer five years old. Those days are gone.

Every morning we, as students, face reality and crawl out of bed bright and early to prepare for another day of learning. Like we have been told many times, the purpose of high school is to prepare us for life beyond the four walls of a classroom. We can only achieve our goals if we succeed in school, but what if schools did not care about education? What if high school refused to help students further their education? I am sure there would be total outrage from parents. This situation seems completely hypothetical, right? There is no way our school would disregard education in this way. For me this is not an imaginary example; recently, I have experienced a similar event.

There is a little-known secret at many high schools: independent study courses are an option for students. Towards the end of last year, I decided to start the process of obtaining approval for an independent study course. I was trying to take one in a foreign language with a teacher I previously had two years in a row. My reasons for doing this ranged from the speed at which I complete my work, to the packed nature of my schedule and the possibility of working with my favorite teacher again. I predicted the application process would take some time so I started early. But I never imagined how difficult and time-consuming this undertaking would be.

I spent my off hours, lunches and time after school sitting in the Guidance Center waiting to talk to my counselor. After several meetings, I finally convinced my counselor to sign off on my application. Then came the really hard part. I had to receive an assistant principal’s signature on the form. This part of the process frustrated me to no end. My reasons for pursuing the independent study course seemed valid to me, my teacher and my parents, yet it was clear that the administration did not agree. I left for summer break feeling discouraged. Meetings and phone calls with counselors continued over the summer months. For weeks, my hopes went up and down. I was told that I had secured approval to pursue an independent study course, then days later it was taken away. I almost gave up.

In one final effort, I scheduled a time to meet with an administrator. The meeting went poorly and I left feeling disheartened and beaten. However, after a couple emails, I must have somehow convinced the right people that my independent study course was worth approving. One evening, I received a phone call. My months of hard work had paid off and my schedule showed the independent study course. Even though my story ended in a satisfactory way, the process was complicated and aggravating.

Education is supposedly moving into the 21st century. Classrooms are transforming, teachers are attempting to implement more effective ways to help students learn and utilize technology. Yet not all schools are fully embracing a new type of learning. Independent study options should play an important role in this innovative education. They force students to take responsibility for their own learning. If students do not put in effort or assignments are not completed, then it only does damage to the individual.

They are useful in preparing for life after high school; college and the working world basically run like a large scale independent study course. Professors and employers do not go around holding your hand, coddling you and making sure everything is perfect. In life after high school, people are held accountable, and that is the mindset independent study courses develop. Only students who can handle working on their own should apply. On top of that, administrations need only accept those who meet the strict criteria, such as a willing teacher and exceptional grades.

I knew I was capable of successfully completing the assignments and I knew I met all the criteria. So why was it such a feat to convince the school to allow me to take an independent study course? I was trying to add an extra class to my schedule. My goal was not to slack off by not wanting to sit in a classroom and waste three hours of my time each week. Increasing my opportunity to learn does not call for restrictions; it calls for support. Students need encouragement when attempting to go above what is expected of them, not dissuasion. Schools need to open independent study options to all who are eligible, and spread the word of how students can benefit from them.

If a student excels at a subject or thrives in a different learning environment, why would schools not jump at the opportunity to encourage a better situation? Non-traditional ways of learning are not the enemy, but rather a chance to welcome a new education system. But hey, what would I know? I am just a teenager who has spent her whole life growing up in the 21st century education system.