From 3rd grade onwards, the children of the New Village School are given the opportunity to work on an individual project. In the early years, of course, a great deal of guidance is given to the children as to what the theme is, how they can approach the work, what questions and aspects to touch on and how to present their work to fellow students and adults.
The themes of the projects are curriculum based. In 5th grade, the students take on a scientific theme and learn how to conduct experiments and reports on their findings. By 8th grade, therefore, the students have gained a great deal of confidence in their ability to do research, create interesting and well thought through presentations and to present the project to an audience in a well articulated way.
Now that the children have had exposure to and have studied such a wide range of subjects as is offered in our curriculum, they are given a chance to choose a topic of their own choice. It is recommended that the student find a mentor for the project that is neither a part of their immediate family nor their teachers. In this way, the 8th grade students can initiate this project completely from their own fields of interest and have someone mentor them who is hopefully an expert in the particular field they have chosen.
Working with an outside mentor also allows an 8th grader to work with someone with whom they might not have a personal relationship but where there is an objectivity in which the focus is on the theme. This gives more emotional space to the 8th grader as they work on their theme.
This is an excellent introduction to the high school years, during which the students will more and more be working with specialists in all subjects as opposed to the more generalist teachers that they will have worked with in the elementary school. In the often delicate and fragile teenage years, it is imperative that the students' own interests come to the forefront and that their work is treated with utter seriousness and respect.
Questions such as, "what truly interests you or moves you? what could help deepen your knowledge of a theme that you are particularly interested in? Is there something that you know nothing about that you have always wanted to find out about? what could make you feel more "educated" or more sophisticated in your way of thinking?" can help the student find the topic he or she will study and present.
The skills they have gathered over the years, the enormous amount of practice they will have had in public speaking through drama work and presentations of all kinds, will now stand them in good stead as they present the results of a whole year's study and research. Working on such an extensive project will also strengthen and solidify their organizational skills both with content and time. Again, this is a tremendous way to prepare students not only for their high school years but for college and university work later in their lives.
Of course the teachers remain available for support and encouragement as the students go through this process. Subjects chosen can range from topics such as:
As long as the student is willing to commit him/herself to the topic and work consistently and in depth on the subject, there is hardly a subject that would not be accepted. Independent learning, well-organized work schedules, good research skills, the ability to present in a confident way, the skill of self-reflection are just some of the abilities with which the students who have completed an 8th grade project, can leave their elementary school years.