When Sam Levin was a junior in high school, he noticed three flaws in his school: (1) there was a lack of engagement and mastery, (2) he and his peers did not know how to gather or create data, and (3) the students in his school were unhappy. Instead of letting administrators solve these issues, Levin decided to take matters into his own hands and designed a school that promoted student engagement and development of skills.
Overseen by guidance counselor Mike Powell, The Independent Project began in the fall of 2012 and involved just eight students. Rather than being a group of the school’s top students, the inaugural class of The Independent Project featured a mix of straight-A student and students who were struggling in their classes. “The idea was that it was for students who could manage their time well, were looking for something more than the traditional program, and had a passion for learning,” explains Powell. Given their passion for learning, students were able to create their own school syllabuses and were able to choose their own books and research topics and questions in math, science, social studies, and literature. The students also met with teachers who served more as advisers and helped guide the students through their semester-long individual projects and their three-week long group project.
While The Independent Project created a positive learning environment that enabled students to learn about topics they are passionate about, it did encounter some bumps. The students found it difficult to do peer-to-peer constructive criticism without the guidance of a teacher and also found it difficult to be fully accountable of their learning. Furthermore, the Project continues to struggle in growing in numbers, as most students know it requires more work and would rather stick to traditional teacher-run classrooms. However, despite these difficulties the students of The Independent Project have learned to ask more questions and have gained a greater awareness of how to answer them, as well as have become better at time-management.