AYER/SHIRLEY -- At a meeting of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee, high school seniors Stevie Schaeffer and Suzanne Reyes presented their first draft outline of what the two hope will become an alternative program at their high school.

"This program will give high school seniors the chance to learn what they want to learn to assist them in their transition into college and the workforce," the two state in their draft of "The Independent Project."

The "school within a school" concept, a program launched at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington in 2010, puts students in charge of deciding their entire curriculum. What they study, their homework assignments, and their academic priorities are all entirely up to them.

Schaeffer and Reyes state in their proposal that in its first year, The Independent Project would be open to second-semester seniors. All students would be welcome to apply, but only nine would be accepted.

The application, they say, would consist of three thought-provoking questions that require creativity and open-mindedness.

Two chair students of the project, the school principal, superintendent and secretary would review the applications. Students with Educational Proficiency Plans would also need a teacher recommendation in order to apply, according to the draft proposal.

The one semester of the project would be broken into four parts: The first week would be orientation; weeks 2-9, the sciences; weeks 10-16, the arts; and weeks 17-19, the collective endeavor.


An "individual endeavor," an ambitious project that the students work on for the entire term, "could be any endeavor that takes roughly one semester to complete.

"The only requirement for the endeavor is that the student is excited about it," states the proposal. At the end of the individual endeavor section of the program, students would make two presentations, one to the group, and one to a public audience.

The "collective endeavor," accomplished during the last three weeks of the program, would be "any serious community or world issue" the group selects and works towards solving.

The goals of the collective endeavor are to create social impacts and make a difference, and give students a chance to practice collaboration skills and unite around a common cause. Schaeffer and Reyes hope to be the student facilitators of the first group.

The project's faculty advisory committee would be made up of one teacher each for science, math, English and history, who would answer student questions, "check in" during the weeks their fields are being discussed, and challenge the students if necessary.

Reyes said that the two would be presenting their project proposal at an upcoming full faculty meeting.

See how it works

A Charles Tsai video on YouTube called "If students designed their own schools...," illustrates how at Monument Mountain, for the most part, there are no adults involved, and how students design their own learning. The students do research and experimentation, and then give formal presentations to share what they learned on Fridays.

"Self-directed learning in small doses can be found at many schools, but few public schools have taken it to this extreme. Giving students full control of their school day was a big gamble on the part of the principal, Marianne Young," Tsai says in his video on the Monument Mountain pilot project.

"My personal and professional investment in these opportunities is to create a school and a way of educating people that allows them to be completely invested, and to stop trying to move every kind of human being through the same gate," Young explains in an interview in the film.

When asked to comment on the project proposal for Ayer-Shirley Regional High School, Principal Brian Haas responded that, because the project is still in the planning stages, he would prefer to wait "until such time that the project is fully functioning."