Independent Pursuit of Passions: Ibby '22
It’s Tuesday afternoon. Ibby Eldredge ‘22 rushed back to her dorm room after AP English class eager to show off her 1950s lilac mermaid-style gown. She had finished the over-skirt just before “lights out” in her dorm last night. Her independent study advisor, Belle Struck ‘94, a studio art teacher at the Academy, waited patiently on Zoom while Eldredge shared how she layered material to create the poof of the skirt, a fashion trend in the 1950s.
Eldredge, a junior boarding student from Lafayette, Louisiana, has been sewing since she was eight years old. She took Studio Art in the fall with Struck but was not able to fit an art elective into her busy academic schedule this spring, so she sought out a way to marry her desire to continue studying art with Struck with her love for fashion and sewing. An independent study in fashion from the 1940s to the1990s was the perfect solution!
Students at Governor’s have been busy with independent studies for at least the last half -century. Typically independent studies are a one-semester, pass-fail, minor course. They are always initiated by the student, overseen by an advisor of the student’s choosing, and allow the student to pursue a passion or niche academic area of interest for which Governor’s does not offer a dedicated course. Students meet with their advisor at least once a week sharing what they have learned and their progress towards their deliverables.
After meeting with their chosen advisor, students who would like to do an independent study submit an application to the Academic Office, which includes the goals of the independent study, the content of the course, the type of assessment, and the student-advisor meeting schedule. “Independent studies are all about the student, so it's what they want. I know that they're curious because they brought the idea to me. I'm just a facilitator and a support network,” said Struck.
Assistant Head of School and Academic Dean Elaine White P’16, ‘21 oversees the independent study program of which there are 15 to 20 each semester. “There’s a significant connection between independent studies and the Seven Essential Skills. Independent studies require the very skills that we think are important for Governor’s students to develop. A successful independent study is concrete proof that a student has internalized many of the Seven Essential Skills: communication, research, analysis, collaboration, flexibility, and resilience,” said White.
Independent studies can be pursued in any discipline, but the majority of them are in science or the arts. This year, a ninth and eleventh grader are doing an independent study in languages, specifically American Sign Language. They are taking an online course and practicing signing with each other. The students are accountable for their work and progress, spending three to four hours a week in addition to their weekly meeting with White. “It’s the purest pursuit of intellectual curiosity,” said White.
In the past few years, the independent study program has expanded to include the summer for those students who lack the time to do so in their school year schedule. In summer 2017, science teacher Marcus Soule worked with three students on an independent study creating a beehive monitoring system. The students—Kyra Steck ’18, Nathan Bargman ’18, and David Wilson ’18—worked with Soule on all aspects of building the system. Steck had a passion for sustaining and growing the beehives on campus, while Bargman and Wilson sought to develop their coding and wiring skills further. Once the proposal and agenda for the project wereset, the students worked with Soule to divide the summer project into a few major categories. Steck took the lead on documentation, website creation, and solar energy; Bargman mastered the load cells to accurately measure the weight of the hive and data transmission; and Wilson headed the effort to code all sensors.
Soule remarked, “The nice thing about an Independent Study is it is one place where a student can take an interest and run with it. The only criteria is that they find a faculty member who is willing to guide them through it. It is a place for students to insert some individuality into their academic experience.”
Struck helped Eldredge develop realistic expectations for her independent study deliverables. While fashion and sewing are her passions, she had six major classes, which she also needed to juggle this spring. “At the end of this semester, I'll have six dresses or pieces of clothing from different time periods from the 1940s to the 1990s. Each look will symbolize the time — how people acted and the rhetoric — it's been really fun and really interesting.”
Eldredge went on to say, “I’m super reserved, very traditional in my designs, so Ms. Struck has really helped me to think out of the box — more like an artist, less practical. With fashion, it's easy to have this idea in your head, but my advisor was really great about making me realize that this is what I want to do and kind of just showing me how I can be creative and still execute things well.”
Struck said, “I feel really lucky to be working with Ibby. The better I get to know her, the better teacher I can be to her.” Whether it be in a class within the traditional curriculum or an independent study, Governor’s teachers support students’ passionate commitment to areas of interest and applaud students’ courage to explore.
Click here to view Eldredge’s independent study, Fashion Through the Decades.