Teammates in Learning 

Independent study inspires interdependent learning. 

Each year, during the winter and spring terms, juniors and seniors have the opportunity to take an independent study to focus on a topic that is of particular interest to them. Most work alone or in small groups, but one group of students took student-centered learning to a whole new level. Ethan Forbes ’22 led a mini class on men’s mental health and sports. His students were his peers — Mambi Tsemo '22, Jamie Madison '22, and Javier Alonso Valcarcel '22 — and the results have inspired a new way to amplify student voice and choice in and beyond the classroom.

Ethan got the idea for a group independent study focused on men’s mental health and athletics during his junior year, but held off on implementing his plan until his senior year. He spent much of the beginning of his winter term drafting his curriculum and started meeting with Mambi, Jamie, and Javi in the spring. 

During their bi-weekly gatherings, they discussed athletic documentaries and interviews they'd watched. Each chose a different athlete to study and used their time together to work out together in the fitness center and put into practice some of the wellbeing and resilience techniques they learned. Mambi and Jamie took their focus on mental health one step forward by participating in yoga during the afternoon activities block. Javi suffered some injuries while rowing crew during the season and used some of the tools they talked about to support his mental health on his road to recovery. 

“I enjoyed the opportunity to learn from my peers and the curriculum that Ethan had developed on men’s mental health,” said Jamie.

After each meeting, the students wrote reflections about what they had learned and how they could develop a healthier lifestyle as student-athletes. They compiled their entries into "The Forbes Anthology of Mental Health," which they submitted as their final assessment.

“In our senior spring, we were focused on our common goal of supporting each other in exploring men’s mental health as it relates to athletics,” said Mambi. “It was great to get out of the classroom and really learn from one another about that something applies to our life.”

During the independent study, the group quickly discovered that they enjoyed learning from their peers. Ethan worked with the group when planning their meeting times and the due date of their assignments. They were teammates in the independent study and held one another accountable, never wanting to let the team down for not completing their work.

Gwyneth Connell, director of the Grauer Family Institute and coordinator of the independent study program, was impressed by Ethan’s proposal and development of a curriculum to lead his peers in the mini class. The success of the team's independent study inspired her to make the same opportunity available to seniors next year.

“The idea of a mini class or interdependent study is a great way to keep seniors engaged in their last semester before leaving the Hilltop. It really reignited their enthusiasm for learning,” says Connell. “We talk a lot about putting kids in the driver's seat and in charge of their own learning experience, and this is a great way of doing it.” 

Next year, the goal is to offer interested seniors the opportunity to lead an interdependent study class during the spring semester. In the evenings during the Project:Pomfret period, they will receive guidance from Connell, and Director of Studies Doug MacLeod, on how to build a syllabus and create an assessment.

“It was a great opportunity to share my passion for men’s mental health and athletics with my friends,” said Ethan. “The best way to show that you know something about a particular topic is to teach it to somebody else. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do that in this independent study and can’t wait to see what students do next year.”

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