Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes

Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Ascension Episcopal School.

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional ClassesPassion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes

Exploring a passion isn’t usually something we get an opportunity to do until college or well into adulthood. Ascension Episcopal School’s Capstone: Independent Study class is looking to change that. More than 30 high school students have jumped at the opportunity to explore a passion since its birth in 2016.

Juniors and seniors have explored topics ranging from art to business, physics to physical therapy, and genetic testing to the effects of gluten on obsessive/compulsive disorder, to name a few. These research projects break down the walls of the classroom and open the world to students.

As Director of College Counseling, part of my job is to help students envision their future and explore options. I’d argue that the independent study program is one of the best things we do at Ascension. We’re giving students a chance to become experts, to contribute something to their field of interest, and to gain experience delivering a large-scale presentation.

During this course, students pursue a research query in a subject they are passionate about or considering as a major in college. Through journaling, refining, and re-envisioning, students naturally narrow their focus to a scope that is manageable for a semester or year-long timeline.

They expand their knowledge and understanding through a variety of means using books, online courses through free venues like Coursera and Edx, TED Talks, YouTube videos, podcasts, research, professional mentors, etc. The term culminates in a written thesis (twelve to twenty-five pages, depending on the timeframe), a 30 – to 90-minute presentation before a faculty panel, and an original product.

Students have shadowed physical therapists, interviewed politicians, conducted surveys, and trained on laser cutting machinery and drafting software in support of their learning.

Class of 2021 Valedictorian Charlie Mahana did back-to-back capstones in his junior and senior years, fusing his two passions, physics and computer science. Charlie’s first project, “Classical Mechanics and Its Relationship to Inherently Chaotic Systems,” culminated with a computer program he wrote to illustrate the motion of a pendulum, the orbit of a satellite, binary orbits, orbital chaos, the double pendulum, and the three-body problem.

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes
Charlie Mahana presents his mathematical computer simulation of multiple pendulums interacting with each other.

“The whole reason I studied orbital mechanics was to be able to understand orbits well enough to write code to properly simulate the data for an orbit and provide a visual,” wrote Charlie in his 2020 thesis. “This was probably the most productive week of my entire life as I just kept pulling apart the nature of gravity, differential equations, and algebraic shapes such as the ellipse until I knew the behavior and nature of these parts of math and physics like the back of my hand.”

Janai Stevens, Class of 2020, chose orthopedics as her topic. Gradually, her focus honed in on preventing ACL injuries in female athletes.

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes
Janai Stevens created a warm up training video to demonstrate proper form to prevent injuries.

During her first semester of study, Janai learned that ACL injuries occur most commonly in girls who play soccer, volleyball, and basketball because these athletes jump and land poorly, causing the tear. For her original product, Janai identified and recorded exercises that would strengthen the muscles around the ACL and also train athletes to jump and land correctly to avoid injury.

The variety of projects is unlimited, and many of them are stepping stones toward students’ futures. Class of 2023 graduate Zachary Belle completed an independent study in architecture during his junior year, designing a 4000-square-foot house. Zach now studies architecture at the University of Alabama.

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes
Zachary Belle gives faculty and staff a tour of his architecture design.

Current senior Chloe Ste. Marie used her independent study semester last year to write more than 18,000 words in her young adult dystopian sci-fi novel, currently titled Canary City. Chloe introduced staff and faculty to each character with her own drawings of each.

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes
Chloe Ste. Marie explains the plot of her book and how she fell in love with her characters.

Class of 2023 graduate Meg Graves composed a 119-page collection of poetry titled Meraki, which is Greek and loosely translates to “labor of love” or “the essence of oneself that one puts into a work.”

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional Classes
Meg Graves shows her poetry book design to faculty and staff.

Her poetry collection and her 27-page thesis, which details her influences like 20th century Confessionalists like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, is not unlike the master’s thesis I did in grad school—a collection of poems and a critical introduction.

At Ascension Episcopal School, with elective choices like journalism, forensic science, personal finance, or Theater IV to choose from, participants in the Independent Study class are choosing the unknown. Exploring a passion can be a scary, yet exhilarating experience, but what better way to explore than with the support of faculty and mentors?

It is absolutely incredible what students can accomplish when we give them time and freedom to chase their dreams and expectations to go above and beyond.

Come explore Ascension at our upcoming October Open Houses to learn more!  Dates and times can be found at

Ascension Episcopal School is a PK3-12 grade private school located on three campuses throughout Lafayette Parish. Ascension Episcopal School is committed to educational excellence in a Christian environment. We admit qualified students without regard to race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. For more information, please visit our website,

About The Author

Passion Propels Students to Push Beyond Traditional ClassesStephanie Fournet is the Director of College Counseling at Ascension Episcopal School. She joined the English faculty at Ascension in 2001 and transitioned into college counseling with the first graduating class of the Upper School in 2009. She is also the mother of an Ascension alumna (Class of 2016). She and her husband will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this December. Stephanie is also the author of thirteen romance and romantic comedy novels, all set in and around Lafayette. When she isn’t writing or helping students get into college, she can be found walking her dogs, paddle boarding, or reading a good book.


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