Independent study offers alternatives

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Jackson Prince, staff writer

Not every Norman finds their campus to be solely comprised of the land from the STC to the edge of Nickoll Field.

Rather, some students find their version of the campus located just across the street from the tennis courts, on the second floor of the District building. Here, students who seek a different path to graduation can participate in the Independent Study program.

Implemented in September of 2006, the Beverly Hills Unified School District’s Independent Study program has grown under the guidance of its life-long supervising teacher Sergio Mandiola. Now in his eighth year of managing the program (and his 15th year of teaching at the high school), Mandiola holds a graduate degree in history and bilingual studies (Spanish).

On Oct. 31, Mandiola shared his experiences and insight regarding this program.

Q: How did Independent Study begin? 

A: “I [started out the program] with one student, part time: Lily Jandrain. She and others (as expressed by their parents) felt for a variety of reasons that they couldn’t fit into the existing high school system, and the District agreed. But by the time we added the program’s fourth student, Logan Lerman, Independent Study became known as a place for students with passions and careers that demanded the flexibility of this program. In fact, later that year we added another student in the arts, Percy Miller [aka Lil’ Romeo].”

Q. What is the need for Independent Study?

A: “BHUSD believes Independent Study to be the best way for talented young people to be involved and engaged at Beverly Hills High School [while pursuing their careers and passions], rather than dropping out or finishing online. They will contribute greatly to the overall Norman population’s experience as well – as Cole Plante did [at Homecoming].”

How are classes structured? 

There are two kinds of classes. Individual appointments are treated like Socratic, graduate school seminars. Students are expected to finish their week of work and are tested on the material. Thirty to 40 percent of the hour is spent on teaching new material. These students are self-directed self-learners. The second class the students attend is called MST (Multiple Subject Tutorials). The tutorials provide students the opportunity to come in for additional help and work with their peers. It’s also an important social element for kids on the road, on shoots and on set.

What are the basic academic subjects covered in class?

We study all A-G subjects with the exception of Advanced Art and, currently, most AP classes.

How many days a week does an Independent Study student attend class?

Attendance is based on the amount of work produced, not on ‘seat time.’ Mandatory seat time is one hour per week. But the average kid does more than one hour per week. The workload consists of a tremendous amount of writing and the same curriculum that is chosen from a selection of Beverly Hills High School courses.

 What are the students gaining by participating in the class?

They gain individual support from an experienced teacher for several hours a week. They network with other high-achievers. They get personalized instruction to their needs and to their aspirations and direction for maturity and competence. They have to not only do their own work, but keep records of it and thus we teach organizational structure and the importance of self-motivation and follow-through.

Are there any drawbacks from the program?

Students lose a little bit in terms of resources – computers and other fancy ‘stuff’ that’s across the street. They lose the ‘goofiness’ as it’s a very demanding program. There’s no time to just ‘chill’ and enjoy the unstructured fun of high school.

Do you feel that your students are prepared to move on to the next step (college/university) academically?

Historically, we send a proportionally equal or greater number of students to 4-year colleges as the high school does, according to the Norman counseling department.

Are there any notable Independent Studies’ graduates professionally successful in the fields of arts and athletics?

Well, there’s Logan Lerman (‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’), who is becoming a movie-star. There’s Nate Weiss, who was accepted into Stanford but instead chose to pursue his career as an EDM deejay. We’ve had numerous actors, musicians and even professional athletes, like Caylin Hauptmann (current offensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, who had attended Florida International University), Michael Kerman (currently plays baseball at UCLA) and Mario Clemens, a golfer (last ranked No. 58 in Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings) who graduated from SMU.

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