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High School/Exit Level (9-12)
Independent Study

Here are some steps for setting up an Independent Study Mentorship (ISM) Program:

1. Establish an Independent Study Mentorship Research Committee. This committee might be responsible for visiting schools with independent study programs, making decisions concerning the new program, and developing the program and presenting information to the Board of Education. Consider including the gifted/talented (G/T) coordinator, district curriculum director, assistant principal for instruction, head counselor, career technology director, AP/Pre-AP/G/T teachers, a site-based decision-making team representative, and a G/T parent representative.

2. Develop a budget. Budgetary considerations include resource materials for the teacher and students, office supplies, computer, printer, fax, phone line, answering machine, e-mail account, professional travel for the teacher, extra-duty summer pay for the teacher, professional services of guest speakers, and transportation for class field trips.

3. Decide what kind of credit will be awarded for the course. One-half to one credit may be awarded in one or a combination of the following courses: Speech Communications (required for graduation), Speech Honors (for second-year students), Research and Technical Writing (an English course), Independent Study in English, or Independent Study in one of the other foundation curriculum areas.

4. Decide who will teach the course. An ideal ISM teacher is one who has several years of experience teaching G/T students, has good communication skills, has good interpersonal skills, has an understanding of the community and its resources, and believes that high school students are capable of professional work.

5. Determine selection criteria. ISM is an elective class for upper-division students. The criteria established should help in selecting students who have a good chance of success in the ISM course. Junior- and senior-level students are more likely to have the maturity and independence needed for a successful independent study. These students are also more likely to have access to transportation to the mentor's workplace. If enrollment in the course is limited, then students pursuing the Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP) diploma should be given top priority. In addition to G/T students, others to consider for recruitment might include those successfully completing AP, Pre-AP, and/or dual-credit classes. Teacher recommendations, at least one of which should be from a teacher of AP, Pre-AP, advanced arts, or dual-credit courses, may be required. A minimum grade point average may also be included among the criteria. Other nonacademic criteria might include good discipline record and good attendance.

6. Write a course description. The counselor will need a course description to be included in the student pre-registration packet.

7. Develop student forms. An application to the program might include teacher recommendations, checklists, possible areas of interest for the independent study, and a writing sample. A student contract should spell out what is expected of the student, including the time commitment. A driving release form signed by the parent will give permission for the student to drive to the mentor's workplace. A leave of absence request form will grant the student release time from classes in order to observe at the mentor's work site, attend professional conferences, or observe some other real-world activity related to the ISM project. At some schools, three such days are allowed per semester for ISM-related absences. Check the sample forms page for examples of these documents.

8. Begin recruitment. Develop a brochure, public address announcement, and other publicity to advertise the availability and requirements of the class. Hand out brochures to all G/T students and to all sophomores and juniors enrolled in AP, Pre-AP, and dual-credit classes. (In subsequent years, ISM students may speak to these classes.) Make applications available and set a due date.

9. Evaluate the applications and select participants. Collect applications, transcripts, and recommendations. The ISM Committee, or the project teacher, may use these items to rate applicants as to probable success in the program. Complete final selection of participants.

10. Interview students. Prior to the end of the school year, schedule interviews with individual students to discuss areas of interest for the independent study. The teacher or the ISM Committee usually conducts the interviews.

11. Schedule a parent/student meeting. Notify accepted students. Invite these students and their parents to an informational meeting. At the meeting, address requirements of the ISM course, expectations and responsibilities of the student, and mentor requirements. Have students and parents sign driving release forms, student contracts, and any other applicable forms. Invite members of the ISM Committee to attend.

12. Develop mentor guidelines. Develop a mentor handbook that describes the program, the characteristics of gifted children, and the commitment required from the mentor. Include information about the school community.

13. Inform the community. Talk to the Chamber of Commerce, community organizations, service clubs, such as the Rotary Club, and professional organizations. The support of the community is important in establishing a successful independent study program. Suggestions for mentors can come from these groups.

14. Enroll mentors in the program. After interviews have been conducted to determine student areas of interest for the independent study, begin the search for mentors. Students should take an active role in this search. This search may continue during the summer prior to the ISM experience or even into the school year if a mentor has not been found. Because of possible conflicts of interest, relatives of the students are not ordinarily considered for mentor roles. Mentors may be found through professional organizations, college departments, retired professional associations, government departments, community service organizations, businesses, research institutions, and other organizations or groups.

Networking with the community is an important role of the teacher of record. The teacher may make the first contact with the prospective mentor, briefly explaining the ISM program and scheduling a visit for the teacher and student. At the meeting, the student is encouraged to talk about interests, plans for projects, and career goals, while the teacher gives further details of the mentorship commitment along with a mentor handbook. Following the meeting, the student and teacher decide whether this mentor is suitable. The completion of the Mentor Profile and Participation Agreement Form concludes the enrollment of the mentor.

15. Produce a student handbook. The student handbook might include a course overview, a student contract, a driving release form, a topic selection form, research report formats, documentation information, business communications formats, goal setting help, time logs, a calendar, a leave of absence request form, evaluation rubrics, a product proposal format, a presentation checklist, and a course evaluation form. Check the sample forms page for examples of some of these documents.

Source: Bonne Stroman, Alice High School.