Independent Study Program

Learning independently is an important life skill. One of the ways that Durham Academy fosters it is through Independent Studies: credit-bearing courses designed and taken by sophomores, juniors, or seniors. Some students take this opportunity to pursue a longstanding personal interest; others delve deeply into a topic inspired by travel, service, or regular coursework; still others seek to develop a new skill. 

Though they work independently, students in this program are supported by teachers and peers. They meet regularly (at least biweekly) with a teacher in a relevant academic field to select resources and check their understanding of content. They also work with the Independent Study Coordinator (ISC) to develop a weekly timetable, strategize, reflect, and hold themselves accountable. They may work with 1-2 peers who are also doing Independent Studies to inspire and encourage each other. 

An independent study is built around the question “What do you want to learn?”. When the answer falls outside Durham Academy’s regular curriculum, an independent study provides support for student exploration. The student-designed course is comparable to standard courses in rigor, daily attention, and volume of time invested (5-7 hours/week). It culminates in a project or performance that is shared with the community in a form appropriate to the topic. 

(Video by Alexis Galloway ’20)

Students who wish to pursue some part of an Independent Study during the summer can seek financial support through The Jack Linger Independent Study Fund.  Established in 2020 by the Linger family, this fund seeks to encourage unique, enriching, out-of-the-box learning experiences. A committee of Upper School faculty and staff, appointed by the head of school, reviews proposals and awards grants. Interested students should contact the Independent Study Coordinator, Tina Bessias, or Upper School Director Lanis Wilson. Grant recipients will be selected based on the merit of their proposed project and its potential impact on the student and the community.

To develop a plan for an Independent Study, students should follow this guide.  They are encouraged to work with the Independent Study Coordinator, Tina Bessias, from the beginning of the planning process.  The preferred deadline for fall semester proposals is April 29; it’s December 1 for spring semester.  The Academic Committee evaluates all proposals and notifies students of its decisions by May 15 or December 15. 

Additional notes: 

● Student initiative is central to an independent study. Therefore the student is expected to take responsibility for scheduling meetings, showing progress, designing the culminating activity, etc. 

● Independent studies last one semester. A student may apply for a one-semester extension through the regular proposal process. 

● Independent studies earn credit toward graduation and appear on the student’s transcript. Withdrawal after four weeks will result in a “WD” notation on the transcript. 

● An independent study may not duplicate an existing course or substitute for a required course. 

● Students doing an independent study are required to keep a blog and post to it at least weekly. 

Recent & Current Independent Studies

Spring 2022Fall 2022
Humanure Toilet Design (Mirella Kades ‘22)Robotics Masterclass (Chris Morris ’23)
Gender Roles in Corporate Finance (Elizabeth Wong ‘23)Writing and performing comedy (Madison Smithwick ’23)
Japanese Language (Jet Tanaka ‘22)Business & computer science (Nikolas Larson ’23)
American Sign Language (Will Lindsey ‘24)Queer-coding in books and film (Tatum Eppinger ’23)
Conducting (Avery Davidson ‘22)Jazz Composition (Zebee Jewell-Alibhai ‘23)
Biomedical Engineering–Neta (Neta Ariely ‘24 & Ela Savas ’24)Machine Learning and Cloud Infrastructure (Emilano Garcia-Lopez ’23)
Influence of Music (Gavin Levinson ‘22)Filmmaking (Amani Diallo ’23)
Healthcare Discrimination (Rinal Dahhan ‘23)Learning Korean (Margaret Hulka ‘24)
Linear Alegebra (Taylor Winstead ‘24)Authoritarian Leaders (London Burnham ’23)
Language and Voice (Olivia Theodore ‘23)Information Security (Everett Wilber ‘24)
Early Pottery (Kathryn Linney ’23)
Linguistics (Lauren Lindberg ’23)
Asian Business Owners in Our Community (Kaia Chen ’23)
Norwegian Independence (Alex McClintock ’23)
Music Theory (Alden May ‘23)
Socioeconomic Barriers and Arts Inequality (Anji Sipkins-Chenn ‘23)
Data Management for Machine Learning (Charith Fernando ‘23)
Quantum Mathematics (Ella Simmons ‘23)
Entrepreneurship Through Social Media (Spencer Jennings ‘23)
Architecture (Santiago Hernandez-Cortes ‘23)
Foreign Influence in African Development (Collin Thornburg ’23)