Students Create Their Own Curriculum


Students Emily McClung and G Mckeeman practice presenting their end of semester presentation for their independent study on food insecurity at RCHS.

Caroline Diette, Reporter

While the course offerings at RCHS are extensive, some students have a curiosity that cannot be fulfilled by one of the available classes. Instead, these students take on the project of an independent study, focusing their attention on a subject of their choosing through individual learning assisted by a mentor. 

The independent study program at RCHS has appealed to a number of students, and this semester seven students have made the choice to take advantage of this unique experience to study something interesting to them. As the first half of the year wraps up, the time has arrived for students to present their findings through presentations they’ve worked on to convey what they learned.

One such student, senior Alyssa Pettijohn, is studying Portuguese. However, she also focused on Brazil’s government and criminal justice system in theory versus reality.

There’s a lot of corruption/problems in both of these systems,” said Pettijohn, “my independent study is actually the study of Brazilian Portuguese, but I focused more on an area that interests me for the end project.”

Pettijohn described how the motivation for her project came from her boyfriend.

“My boyfriend is from Brazil and the large extent of his family only speaks Portuguese,” said Pettijohn,” I needed another class in my schedule in order to participate in sports and I was already working on learning Brazilian Portuguese independently so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

The learning process had its ups and downs, though, as Pettijohn describes issues over the semester.

“Occasionally, there were a few issues of communication between my mentor and myself in which I felt uncomfortable asking simple questions. I often felt like there was no way to find answers I needed and that led to a lot of insecurity in my proficiency at learning this language,” said Pettijhon.

Despite the rough patches, Pettijohn speaks highly of the experience and what she has taken away from it.

“I’ve learned a lot about not only Brazil but myself. I’m rather proud of my ability to get everything done for this class as well as all my other classes while also participating in varsity sports.”

Another student taking on the challenge of an independent study is senior Lincoln Garcia. Garcia explains his project on computer programming.

“My project is learning a javascript framework called Vue through an internship, although that is an extremely limited way of describing the independent study,” said Garcia. “Basically I’m learning how to build and launch websites from scratch.”

Garcia discussed that the motivation for this project was rooted in his background with programming. Like Pettijohn, he also appreciated how this program allowed him to study something he is specifically interested in.

“I have had previous programming experience, and doing this as an independent study allowed me to pursue a programming internship while keeping in good standing with the school,” said Garcia.

Garcia emphasized that his favorite part of the opportunity is getting to work with faculty from the internship.

“They are all very talented individuals and have taught me a lot,” said Garcia.

Garcia reflected on the positives of his experience from the past semester. He describes how much he has learned from the experience and how it can carry over into not just school and a future career, but life in general.

“I have really loved the experience so far,” said Garcia, “I have learned so much about computers and programming in an extremely short period of time– and the skills I’ve learned can get me a nice salary just about anywhere. I have also learned valuable skills from this experience like how to work in a large team, how to work and communicate effectively, and of course, how to build and manage a website.”

Although the program is known as the Independent Study program, this year had the first three person project with Emily McClung, G Mckeeman, and Caroline Diette. McClung discusses their project on creating a food pantry at RCHS with the help of their mentor Dr. Sandra Hayslette.

“This semester we have primarily been in the planning stages (collecting data, researching, talking to partners like RARA, etc),” said McClung. “This project started in sociology class last year so I wanted to pursue this study as a way to put what I learned in school to good use and help our school and community. It isn’t often that you get the chance in school to do something so hands-on and exciting.”

This is McClung’s second independent study, since in the spring of 2021 she utilized the program to begin learning Russian. Because of this, she has input on the process from her previous experience, but still feels she learned from this project.

“Overall, independent studies are very rewarding because you are putting in so much work into a subject you really care about,” said McClung, “then at the end you can share your knowledge to friends and family, and you get to feel a little bit like a seasoned expert in this topic. I’ve learned more about being a group leader from this experience. I’ve had to direct classes, make important decisions, talk to administrators, and now present our work to an audience!”

McClung recalls the most interesting part of the process for her was administering focus groups to help advance the trio’s research on what a food pantry should look like at RCHS.

“In September we conducted 8 focus groups in different English classes. These were group discussions where we asked students what they thought about a school food pantry,” said McClung.

McClung, like Pettijon, elaborates that there is a clear level of commitment and organization that someone undertaking an independent study has to understand.

“My least favorite part of an independent study is the precise time management to get all 90 hours in,” said McClung. “It doesn’t seem like a lot at first but as the semester goes on, you realize that you need to treat this as a class you work on nearly every day.”

However, McClung still endorses the program.

“I would recommend this program to anyone who has passion for a project or subject! They are hard but inspire so much personal growth and love of learning.”