Fairmont Students Pursue Their Own Interests in Class Project

For the past six months at Fairmont Historic Anaheim, Mrs. Wilhite’s junior high international students and students in Mrs. Debreczeni’s 8th grade English class have been working on a unique assignment that allowed the students to explore their own personal interests. Not only did they learn more about their topics, but they also learned about themselves.

The project was called “20 Time” because students were able to spend 20 percent of their time each week (equivalent to a class period) researching, planning, documenting, and questioning subjects that are unique to their interests — things they might not get the time or opportunities to do in other classes or even at home.

Both teachers informed students of the assignment last December. Though some students were apprehensive at first, the project provided them with the freedom, encouragement, and guidance they needed. They took part in a pitch presentation much like the television show “Shark Tank” and had monthly deliverable checks to ensure they were all making adequate progress.

Mrs. Wilhite said that she was excited to share this project with her students to help them expand upon their critical-thinking skills and not always see things as black and white. Additionally, she hoped for them to be able to do something that was completely for themselves and not for their families or anyone else.

“This project is all about their own unique interests,” she said. “It really focuses on intrinsic motivation and doing something for themselves and the success in knowing that they can do something for themselves. And I wanted them to see that — that there is more to life than just fitting in the box.”

One of her students, 8th grader Ellen V., decided to explore the world of baking — a task she doesn’t get to do back home with her family. She was amazed with how much she was capable of, and even though she hit a few minor roadblocks while she was learning how to bake cakes, she finally created a delicious dessert that filled her heart with tremendous joy.

“I wanted to try to prove that I could do this,” Ellen said. “Then I made the cake, and I felt really happy and also proud of myself. I thought ‘I can’t believe that I can do this!’ But I learned from my mistakes and fixed them, and I had success.”

Students in Mrs. Debreczeni’s class also saw the benefits of this unique assignment, and she was able to see them persevere through the challenges they faced and create personal connections with their own passions. She was also able to help them discover how imaginative they actually are.

“[This project] helped us to think outside the box and really experience what the real world is like,” Ethan I. said. “I learned a lot about time management and being efficient, and I also figured out that I can be creative when I have unlimited boundaries and unlimited space.”

While students learned and grew in a variety of topics and interests, one area Mrs. Wilhite wanted to see them develop the most was their abilities to be resilient and keep their chins up when things didn’t always go as they hoped.

“I painted the picture for them that, no matter what the goal was, if they didn’t set out to get where it was, or if they failed in any way, to not accept it as a complete failure,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to accept the failures as successes because they paved new paths for them. They allowed them to see that it was OK to make mistakes and that you have to grow and work with the mistakes that you’ve made.”

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