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Middle school students implement learning outside the classroom with independent research

Middle school students implement learning outside the classroom with independent research
Middle school students implement learning outside the classroom with independent research

By Annie Linley '23

For most middle school students, summer vacations are a welcome break from all things academic. For 8th grade student Lizzie Griffin, however, her upcoming trip to South Africa provided the inspiration for a full-year research project through Harpeth Hall’s Scholars Engaged in Extending Knowledge (SEEK) program.

“I have always been interested in animals and wildlife,” she said, “so I thought researching national parks would be a good topic for me.” With extensive research and through the support of her faculty advisor, Lizzie was able to create a comprehensive travel guide to the Table Mountain and Kruger national parks in South Africa.

The SEEK program is designed to support exactly that: the desire of students to expand their knowledge beyond the middle school curriculum and to integrate learning into their lives outside Harpeth Hall. Each of this year’s 19 scholars began her process with a question about the world not answered in her classes. The SEEK students worked with a faculty member or outside expert to narrow their research and guide their process. At the end of the school year, their hard work culminated in a final product presented to both a faculty committee and the middle school students.

This year, SEEK projects ranged from AI predictions to historical fiction novella writing, from crochet to neuroscience, from street art to vegetarianism. Final products included videos, middle school lesson plans, artwork, and more. Scholars consulted many Harpeth Hall alumnae and community members in their fields, but the projects were student-led from start to finish. This stipulation requires each girl to be self-motivated and highly disciplined, encouraging her to pursue a topic in which she has a genuine interest.

For 8th grade student Ella Causey, that topic was entrepreneurship. Her final product was a business plan for a small bracelet-making business. Ella’s interest in entrepreneurship began with a mask business during COVID, and through SEEK she was able to develop her acumen and passion with a new product: beaded bracelets. Ella said that the collaboration with her mentor, Brooke Worthington Pursley  ‘07, founder and owner of Brooke Worthington Jewelry, made her experience especially impactful, noting, “[Ms. Pursley] was extremely supportive, gave me constructive feedback, and helped me improve my business plan.”

 Every SEEK student pursues her project with the sole reward of gaining knowledge.. She finds joy in learning for learning’s sake. Individually, the commendable SEEK scholars of 2024 are scientists, poets, historians, and artists, but as a group, they are motivated learners and inspiring teachers.

Indeed, many SEEK alumnae, including Lilly Cashen ‘24, this year’s SEEK assembly speaker, have remarked upon the lessons in research methods, identifying interests, and time management, which they continue to use well beyond their SEEK project. “I, along with past and present SEEK scholars, have gained knowledge and fueled a curiosity which will last us a lifetime,” Lilly declared in her speech. This premier middle school program has cultivated motivated, curious, and accomplished students for 19 years, and it will continue to do so for years to come.