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South Jordan Journal

Paradigm’s Jefferson Scholar program allows students academic freedom in learning

Feb 16, 2021 03:11PM ● By Julie Slama

Paradigm junior Kelln Pratt compared how ADHD in France is treated differently than in the United States as part of the Jefferson Scholar program. (Lisa Mauer/Paradigm High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Paradigm High School junior Reagan Cox wanted to choose what she was learning.

“I was looking for a program that allowed me more freedom in my education,” she said. “I found that in the Jefferson Scholar program.”

Paradigm’s Jefferson Scholar program allows students, or scholars as they are called at the school, to complete state curriculum high school credits as they study topics they choose. The program isn’t a lecture format from teachers, or mentors, rather, the scholars select a topic they want to learn about, research it and present it in one of several ways to their peers and mentor, said mentor Lisa Mauer who originated the program.

That was what Cox wanted.

“We were learning about Italy, and I chose to learn more about gelato since I have an interest in foods. I was so excited to learn about what I wanted and because I have that interest in it, I’ll be able to remember what I learned,” she said. “I’ve also learned about Egypt’s female pharaoh, which came from learning about gelato. I learned ice cream came from Egypt and it started because of their pharaoh, who was female. I’ve shared that excitement of learning about it with friends. It’s never happened before that my education is joyful. I’m learning and excited about it.”

Cox also has chosen to study fashion when learning about World War II.

“Hitler took over women’s fashion and it’s really intriguing. I don’t know where learning about it is going to take me, but I like that I’m learning how to teach myself and take responsibility for my learning,” she said.

The Jefferson Scholar program began four years ago after a year in development. Since then, it’s been revamped and fine-tuned, Mauer said.

“I was sitting at my computer, creating a PowerPoint,” she said about the evening the idea came to her to have the program. “I sat there thinking, ‘wow, this kid is going to love this topic and this other kid, he’s going to fall asleep because he doesn’t care about this sort of stuff.’ I was going through all the scholars in one class and I’m like ‘geez, they just can’t do their own research on this topic because they would all be different.’ All of a sudden, it was ‘well, why don’t we?’ So this Jefferson Scholar program basically turns the tables. I have given the students boundaries for what they need to be doing, and then let them go. I turn into one taking notes and asking questions because the things that they come up with are not what I would have come up with.”

She said many of the skills they’re practicing apply to their future college learning.

“They learn to ask questions to research the answers to their own questions. They learn different kinds of research. They learn to take notes. They learn to work together and collaborate. They learn to work by themselves. They learn to ask,” she said. “They have been told since kindergarten what to study. It’s the teacher who always gives them information, telling them what they’re going to be learning and telling them how to learn it, what’s required on the test. This class doesn’t do that. It actually gives them the opportunity to discern what they want to study in certain areas.”

Junior Garrett Schugk said he not only has learned how to study, but also how to manage his time and not procrastinate. 

“I love picking about topics I’m super passionate about,” he said. “I’ve talked to my mentors one-on-one, learning how to study, how to research and how to write a thesis. I learned how to take notes a different way with a different purpose. My writing has a purpose to it. It’s like higher education and it’s advancing my education.”

Mauer said that when studying U.S. history, she has had students select George Washington or Alexander Hamilton, but another student chose to learn about military tactics of different time periods.

“I would have never presented a lesson on it, because it wasn’t my area of interest,” Mauer said. “I may have said, ‘OK, let’s study the minutemen.’ That’s about as close to military as I would have gotten. The student learned about the tactics and where they came from,” she said, adding that students have the opportunity to share what they learned by taking the role as teacher. “I’m here to guide them, to help them find sources and help them figure out tactics of how to study and how to learn.”

That is one of the ways Mauer assesses students. 

“They are the teacher; they are the authority on what they are teaching; I ask questions,” she said, adding that often their hour-long presentation includes a PowerPoint and hand-outs. “I believe with my whole soul, when you have to teach other people, all of a sudden it becomes more serious and more worthy of your work.”

Other assessments are students may write an in-class, timed essay using their notes; or have a personal interview with a mentor, in which they answer questions and show that they are learning. In addition, scholars write and present papers, and complete portfolios. They also will converse with Mauer about their learning and together, reflect upon it to give them a score on their research and assessment.

The class is open to all high school students and each semester, they will pursue an area of interest within the boundaries of the curriculum. Each year, the numbers of hours to research and study vary as they develop more skills. 

This year, she has 26 Jefferson scholars. Through the years, she said that there have been 60 students in the program, which is an application process as is a way of ensuring students understand and are prepared for the concept of choosing their own learning.

Mauer is a firm believer in empowering students and having them make connections in their education.

“It is about their own education. It’s about owning their education,” she said, describing once students embrace this desire and are excited about learning, it reaches a point where she calls it “beautiful learning.”

Kelln Pratt said it’s one of her favorite classes.

“I was learning about ADHD in France and the chemistry of ADHD, and I began to compare America’s and Frances’s differing opinions of it; America sees it more biological and treats it with meds while France is more holistic and examines every part of it,” she said. “As I studied, I became fascinated about brain chemistry and that lead me to research more about chemistry and math. As a result, I learned more about myself and understand more since I was recently diagnosed with it.”

Pratt said that as a result of the class, she has developed a love of studying.

“I go beyond what’s needed. What I’m learning is so fascinating, it allows me to get to ‘beautiful learning,’” she said. “I’m seriously so excited for college and I am genuinely prepared for school and how to be effective in my studying and have the skills to take me on my journey of learning.”