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Immaculata's Academically Enriched Programs Elevate Students' Research and Writing Skills
Posted 06/29/2018 01:19PM

Immaculata's Academically Enriched Programs Elevate Students' Research and Writing Skills

Caption: Joseph Sapone'20 of Bridgewater answers questions at the Marian Scholar Symposium.

At its recent Marian Scholars Symposium, Immaculata hosted a tribute to rigorous academic excellence as it celebrated the culmination of the Marian Scholars program's fourth year and recognized the first group of students to complete the four-year program. This program is dedicated to developing our students' high level research and presentation skills on key local and global topics. These students work with faculty mentors on specialized research projects and presentations and receive co-curricular enrichment through excursions, seminars, and speakers. Started in 2014 with a core of nine students, the program now includes 45 students and this year, it was enhanced with the introduction of the AP Capstone Program. Presented as a joint effort of the English and Theology departments, the AP Seminar portion of the program focused on contemporary topics in human dignity. The program's power is that the research and topics are student driven, teaching them to discern accurate and authentic data and facts.

At this year's Symposium, the freshmen made formal presentations on topics as diverse as group thinking in politics, handling of forensics evidence, human rights, wind impact on local communities, and the impact of radiation on astronauts. The sophomores developed poster board displays, using them as springboards for discussions with symposium guests.  Among the topics they tackled were cryptocurrency, genetic immunity implications of Laron dwarfism, space pollution, and bacteria challenges.

In keeping with the guidelines and spirit of the AP Capstone Program, the juniors and seniors wrote two research papers and created a multi-media presentation. They tackled such complex subjects as undocumented workers, human trafficking, end of life issues, technology and unemployment, the prison system, and racism in American schools.

"This year," says Marian Scholars co-coordinator Nancy Bonham, "the AP Capstone Program elevated our Marian Scholars Program. When Deirdre Rosinski and I, with the help of the administration and the program's creators, first crafted our program, our major objectives were to maximize the research, writing, and public speaking skills of our Scholars. Last summer, when we, joined by my co-AP Capstone teacher Michelle Kovach, attended the course training, we were gratified that our philosophy and approach were very much in sync with the College Board's expectation of AP Capstone."

In its pioneering year at Immaculata, the AP Seminar course was geared to 24 juniors and seniors. In this class, the students focused on college-level scholarly research, vetting sources, independent thinking, analysis and writing, synthesizing their findings into team projects, and presenting  not only facts that endorsed their views, but addressed opposing opinions. Their task was not just to offer solutions to issues they investigated, but note the limitations of those very solutions.

Next year, the school's AP Capstone Program will be two-tiered with the AP Seminar directed to rising juniors and selected underclassmen and AP Research for the rising seniors. AP Research cultivates the skills and discipline necessary to conduct independent research and inquiry in order to produce and defend scholarly works. Through this inquiry students further the skills they acquired in the AP Seminar course.

In her new role, Bonham will not only be team teaching AP Seminar with Kovach, but will be strategizing how to further enhance the Marian Scholar program. Rosinski and Kovach will team teach the AP Research course. Among the program's future goals are having more guest speakers, including alumni, taking more field trips, embracing coalitions with local colleges and businesses, providing more enrichment opportunities for the students and mentors, evaluating the impact this program has on our recent graduates, and most importantly, assessing how to be best serve current Marian Scholars in developing their academic skills and life management skills.

An unexpected benefit of the Marian Scholars program was the sense of community that developed among the students. "We have grown together and encouraged each other since freshman year," says Emily Holland'19 of Branchburg. "We learned how to balance our rigorous schoolwork and after school activities, helped each other build better study habits, formed strong bonds with both upper and underclassmen through shared advice and encouragement, and kept each other motivated and positive through the year in a friendly yet intellectually stimulating environment."

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