Page 75 - Volume 6 - Issue 1 - DBU Journal for K-12 Educational Leadership

Journal of K-12 Educational Research 73 In several cases, the participants did not choose to study in college what they studied in the ISM program. In these instances, the participants expressed gratitude and relief that they were able to figure that out in high school and not after they had been in college for several years. During the ISM teacher focus group, the ISM teachers confirmed that students being able to research a college major while in high school is a significant benefit of the ISM program. For some students, the research and mentorship components of the ISM program solidified their college major, so what they studied in ISM was the exact same as what they pursued in college. Others were able to conduct research to narrow their focus within a certain profession. However, the ISM teachers said it is also a victory when students study a topic while in the ISM program and realize they do not want to study that topic in college. Sometimes students realize this early enough in the ISM year that they can switch topics. At other times, students complete the ISM year in a particular topic, all the while confirming that they want to pursue a different major and career in college. Teachers reported all these scenarios are success stories because students gain valuable information that helps them make informed choices regarding their college major. Related to this confidence, several ISM teachers made the point during the focus group that while ISM helps some students get into their dream schools, which are often the Ivy League or highly selective private schools, the ISM program is just as powerful for what they described as “non-typical ISM students.” These non-typical students apply because they have a passion for cooking, the art of guitar making, and many other topics, and they do not have another avenue in high school through which to study their passion. The non-typical students they described with admiration and affection were as different as the passions they pursued, but several themes clearly emerged. Some students found their purpose. Others used the networking skills they learned to open a door into hard-to-breakinto fields, such as acting and music. They were more comfortable in their own skin and had carved out a niche in life for themselves because of their ISM journey. Findings Related to Suggestions for Program Improvement Fourteen of the 21 respondents did not have a suggestion for improvement. They used this question to repeat how they benefited from the program. One young woman remarked, “ISM is just about perfect because there’s so much choice and freedom. It can be whatever a student needs it to be, and your teacher helps you constantly along the way.” Seven of the respondents had some ideas for improvement that they discussed in the moment or emailed the researcher after giving the question some thought. Their ideas fell into three categories—opening the ISM program to more and younger students, who the ISM teacher is matters, and adding an additional, specific mentorship component. Opening Up the ISM Program Several of the participants mentioned that they believe a less intense version of the ISM course should also be offered to ninth and 10th graders, or, as one participant put it, “a JV version that could build skills that would help students get even more out of ISM, which is the varsity version if you will.” He mentioned that he realizes there are staffing constraints related to this idea but emphasized the impact ISM had on his life and the value of students having the opportunity to investigate even more careers or college majors than they can in only one or two years of ISM. Another participant mentioned that some of the presentation, personal branding, and soft skills components of the ISM program could be taught in a more robust manner in the speech class students are required to take to graduate, which are important skills for all students to have. Related to this, several participants mentioned the application process required by the ISM program. During earlier parts of the interview, 16 respondents mentioned that they loved being in a class where their classmates were so passionate about what they were learning. In this context, these respondents stated they appreciated that the ISM program required an application and an interview. They enjoyed and even needed to be in this environment given the “cutthroat atmosphere in some of my other