The goal of the Independent Studies Program is to advance student independence and creativity. The ISP allows students to undertake extracurricular projects of personal interest and passion and to work in concert with a student-selected advisor and committee of faculty volunteers.To help participants find the time and means for their projects, the school waives the extracurricular requirement for one term and provides a modest allowance for materials and travel.
Student projects—displayed or performed—conclude in early spring before AP exams begin. Outstanding independent work is recognized at a special awards assembly at the end of the year for upper middlers or at graduation for seniors.
Since 1964, well over a thousand projects have been completed in all fields of learning: fiction writing, poetry writing, still-life painting, silk-screening, piano, voice, and dance recitals, song-writing, play productions, digital photography, alternative energy explorations in wind power and photovoltaic cells, bio-fuel technology, and 3-D architectural design.
Taft remains the only school of its kind to offer this non-credit, year-long opportunity in a formal program supervised by volunteers.
In its first year, nearly a half century ago, Taft's program for Independent Studies was considered a high-risk venture. Why would an upper-school student risk failure through extra work for no academic credit? Why would students participate in something so new that no other school or college had anything such as the ISP as a formal organization?
It is clear, now, what generates continued enthusiasm for the ISP: the opportunity for an idea or for a passion to take on new form and new dimensions. Each year the new participants benefit from the cross-pollinating among projects, and these special students become aware that the invisible rewards—pride, confidence, and self-knowledge—are often the most durable.
—Amanda Benedict and Ken Hincker
Independent Studies Program Directors
In 2005, Taft added the option of a Senior Project—an independent experience that prompts seniors to demonstrate their genuine passion beyond the limits of the curriculum, to reflect on their learning at Taft, and to exhibit publicly the ways in which they embody the Portrait of the Graduate.
Although the Taft curriculum already provides opportunities for independent work, the Taft Senior Project requires not only independent work, but also sustained and thorough reflection of what seniors have learned and become, revealing that the mission of the school has been lived by them.
Most recently seniors have chosen to create an organic garden for the Taft community, while two others designed a composting program for student and faculty kitchens. One senior created an album of original country music compositions. Others collected information on all of the community service opportunities open to Taft students in the greater Waterbury area as well as information on other service opportunities over vacations. One senior volunteered as a campaign worker for Sen. Barack Obama during the primaries, traveling to closely contested states.
In the end, Taft archives all completed projects to weave seniors' signature experiences, learning, and awakenings into the celebrated history of the institution.
Senior Project Director