High school can be challenging. Juniors and seniors are at the age where they’re itching to become adults and make a real difference in the world, but are oftentimes told that they have to wait until they’re older.

Imagine taking a class where YOU guide the syllabus. YOU are in charge of the direction your research takes you. YOU are in charge of the outcome. YOU are in charge of the impact you have on the world.

St. Paul’s School for Girls has created the SPIRITUS Scholars program, a two-year exploratory program for juniors and seniors that empowers their students to do just that.

SPIRITUS is an acronym for Scholars who Present, Inquire, Research, Innovate, Test, Utilize and Solve, and the program was created to aid students in developing a research question about which they are passionate and pursuing solutions with the support of a faculty advisor and an off-campus expert and mentor.

According to its website:

“The SPIRITUS program promotes individualized learning paths and processes by providing a unique opportunity for students to engage in an inquiry-based research endeavor of their own design. The program fosters intellectual growth and leadership by allowing students to pursue personal passions. Under the guidance of the program coordinator, faculty advisors and off-campus mentors, students pose questions, pursue answers, and develop connections and opportunities for life beyond SPSG.”

In their junior year, students prepare by taking a “Research Methodology” course to better understand and prepare for the steps of inquiry and discovery taken in their research projects. Students learn to develop questions, conduct subject-specific research, develop voice, and draft detailed and innovative research proposals.

Next, they begin on their research proposal. Once their hypothesis has been developed, they work with the SPIRITUS Scholars Program Coordinator, Paige North, to identify mentors and create their customized syllabus and find new ways to gain more information. You may see students visiting new places, meeting with experts, enrolling in online courses, attending workshops and lectures and conducting research in many different ways, empowering them to learn more about their chosen topic.

Junior Nia Lewis is just beginning her research on the exploitation of certain groups of women for their hair, and she is hoping to create a safer, less costly, and more accessible synthetic hair alternative to create wigs and weaves in the future. “When I first learned about this project, I thought of a documentary entitled ‘Good Hair’ that I’d seen when I was younger. It always stood out to me because I’ve always been drawn to human and women’s rights. I thought about the exploitation of women and their hair, and I thought it was interesting and wanted to learn more, in hopes that I can really make a difference.”

Junior Maggie Norton chose her topic, addressing the crisis of opioid use in student athletes after critical injuries, because it was something that she’d discovered wasn’t commonly discussed. “During my research, I had a conversation with a doctor from Johns Hopkins who studies opioids, and he shared that he’s never seen anyone focus on opioid use in athletes, and that he was proud that I was helping to shine a light and opening eyes to something that has been swept under the rug for so long. I feel really proud of my work, and I am hoping to make a difference in sports teams around Baltimore.”

During senior year, Scholars at SPSG begin their Capstone Projects. They fine tune their research questions and the presentation of their research. They share their findings and solutions in a community forum.

St. Paul's School for Girls

St. Paul’s School for Girls Student Allison Dockman at the Maryland State House

Senior Allison Dockman has been studying PANDAS, a pediatric disorder that affects children from age three through puberty. She was able to sit in on a legislative bill at the Maryland State House that addressed health care coverage for the disorder when it passed. (Talk about real world problem solving!)

Other projects include topics such as Aniyah Adams’ creation of a documentary film about gentrification in Baltimore, and Angelina Baran’s project examining the environment effects of meat production. Her project has already led SPSG to institute Meatless Mondays in its Gator Cafe.

All of these projects are self directed, but are also under the guidance of Paige North, SPIRITUS Scholars Program Coordinator. Ms. North works with the cohorts to tackle significant issues, explores their varied interests, and keeps her students academically engaged, while encouraging a passion for healthy risk taking and involvement within the greater community. She wants her students to dive head first into their research and join the changemakers, scholars, and leaders who are helping to shape our world.

Her ultimate end goal is “to not just be the change, but to make a change.” Ms. North shared, “My hope for each Scholar is that they continue these rich and impactful dialogues in some fashion and that they apply the many lessons learned about how to wield integrity, curiosity, collaboration, and academic purpose to continue working towards the greater good. SPSG’s SPIRITUS Scholars Program is merely the beginning of what I hope will develop into a lifelong passion for learning, doing, and supporting fellow women in their efforts to make a difference – and importantly, knowing, that through time, hard work, and collaboration, they can do just that.”

Who says young people can’t make a difference?

This article is sponsored by St. Paul’s School for Girls as part of our Cool School Partners series. To learn more about St. Paul’s School for Girls visit their listing in our Independent School Directory or call them at 443-632-1046. Photos provided by St. Paul’s School for Girls.