FSHA’s four-year, cross-disciplinary Research Program gives students experience writing the types of papers they will be asked to write as soon as they enter their freshman year of college. We start by cultivating curious minds. We encourage students to blend personal interests with academic ones as they explore the complex systems that make up our modern world.
Risk & Research
What does it mean to be a college-preparatory high school, like Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy? According to Nora Murphy, FSHA’s librarian, it means that students are ready to handle the academic rigor that greets them as college freshman. And as Murphy knows, one major scholarly stumbling block for many freshman students is the dreaded research project.
To help the academic transition from high school to college, Murphy developed our four-year Research Program, which is designed to teach students the research skills they’ll be expected to know after they leave FSHA.
“We’re giving our students the permission to embrace the uncertainty. We’re asking them to feel the frustration and let it drive them to ask more questions, find more answers.” - Nora Murphy, librarian
According to Ms. Murphy, “FSHA’s research program allows students to master core research skills through repetitive practice. Rather than being hindered by the mechanical aspects of research, they can be intellectually curious about their chosen topics.” While there is some initial nervous pushback from students afraid of what the program entails, they are empowered by the freedom to choose topics of personal interest. Ms. Murphy elaborates, “We legitimize their interests by providing them the opportunity to research topics that may not have been covered in class otherwise.” As a result, students choose a broad range of topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, sexism in film, gun violence and gender misrepresentation in fan fiction.
A: FSHA’s four-year Research Program was created to give students experience writing the types of papers they will be asked to write as soon as they enter their freshman year of college. We heard loud and clear from college-level instructors and librarians that freshmen were entering college without the mindset and skills required to carry out research papers. This capstone program represents our commitment to preparing our young women for university-level course work.
We start by cultivating curious minds. We encourage students to blend personal interests with academic ones as they explore the complex systems that make up our modern world.
We also emphasize core research skills, so students receive instruction in all grades on navigating academic databases, how to use predictive search methods to locate research material and the use of multiple electronic source documentation tools.
A: It’s hard for the students, particularly after selecting a general topic, to narrow it down to a workable, debatable thesis after a long period of research. It’s a little uncomfortable for them as we’re flipping the process a little bit. We require that they wait a long time before claiming a thesis. They want to do that right up front, so they can find resources that match their thesis statement. We require that they spend 8-10 weeks doing deeper reading of the research material and create their thesis from what they find.
Our students are also in need of permission to take intellectual risks. It’s very scary for them to do that. They really want you to tell them the answer all the time. The Reseasrch Program gives them permission to take those risks; it actually requires them to do so.
A: There are some really great projects. One student’s first idea was that she didn’t understand why young women didn’t want to identify as feminists. She identifies as a feminist and a lot of people don’t, so she wanted to look into that. At the same time, she became interested in ethnic heritage and ethnic diversity feminism. So now she’s writing a paper about the ways that the feminist movement has not appropriately addressed the racial and class issues of many American women. Her theory is that the feminist movement is really in jeopardy and losing people, young people, who aren’t identifying as feminists. It’s so complicated and amazing.
Another student is researching the post-World War I era and the way that the crisis and the trauma following that war led to an artistic explosion. She’s looking at the way writers and artists, out of a sense of hopelessness and desperation, began to define and create their art differently. And she’s come to that conclusion on her own.
What’s great about this project is that while some of these ideas aren’t new to us (those of us that have been around for a bit), the girls are just discovering them for the first time. There’s this moment when this student was talking to me about the post war trauma that everyone was feeling after WWI, the sense of fear and the loss of security and predictability in life, and she just looked at me and said, “But wait, at the same time people were starting to create this kind of art and this kind of music.” She realized this connection for the first time—and that is very exciting.
A: There’s an expectation at the very early college level, the freshman course level, that they’ll be able to do a number of things independently. It’s our responsibility to prepare our students for that. We need to keep in mind exactly what a college will expect and know that professors do not deliver instructions on these skills. There’s not a lesson in place on how to use the database and how to use the library. It’s just an expectation.
There’s enough happening in their freshman year of college that’s stressful and learning how to do all of this here prepares them for a situation in college where these girls can be the ones on their dorm floor who say to their friends, “Oh, I know how to do that. Don’t worry. I’ll show you how.”
A: Through the research process, they learn how to properly identify information online and use it; they learn how to do smart searches; how to evaluate the credibility of a source; they’ll think about the information that they’re using and how they are using it. They also need to know how to document a source; when to know to abandon or discard it; when to know that an anticipated thesis statement is no longer valid—all of those things need to become more automatic for our students.
A: I love that being here requires me to take intellectual risks all the time. I feel that I am challenged in the work I do in a different way than the work I did previous to coming here. Prior to coming here, I was in public education and I was very focused on living within a system. I had to cope with a lot of obstacles that were in the way of the real work … that I was never able to get to. Here I can get to the real work.
I also love being part of a community that is committed to innovative curriculum design, that examines what we do as educators, and that constantly questions if what we’re doing is in line with our mission. We are careful and thoughtful, and that thoughtfulness is something truly valuable.
Check out Librarian Nora Murphy's blog posts about the methodology that underlies our Research Program.
After two years of foundational instruction, students are ready to tackle the advanced requirements of our junior (JRP) and senior research projects (SRP). These cross-disciplinary research projects allow students the opportunity to define their own topic, utilize college-level research methodologies, and conduct original scholarly research. We slow down the research process so that something that would take six weeks in college, we take eight months to do. This allows us to address very deeply how one goes about producing relevant research and then communicating and defending the results. By completing a research paper in the junior year and a substantial final project in the senior year, students are prepared for the academic transition from high school to college.
Seniors interested in the sciences can apply for FSHA’s Honors Scientific Research course, a hands-on lab that focuses on biotechnology technique and research, which would take the place of the traditional SRP. At the end of the year, a select group of seniors present their findings to the community during our annual Student Research Showcase Night.
Here are just a few of the creative Senior Research Projects completed by our students.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF EATING INSECTS
While the rest of the world practices entomophagy (eating insects), Americans do not. Erin Cross '18 wanted to find out why. She created a website to explore this issue, where she describes Americans' preconception that entomophagy is disgusting and bizarre, making it easy to judge the cultures that eat insects. Further, she explores how eating insects is one of the most sustainable, practical and advantageous ways to feed people. Interested? Check out her website for more info and how to order edible insect snacks!
WOMEN IN ORTHODOXY
Sophia Pappas '18, curious about why the Orthodox church was not open to female spiritual leaders, discovered in her research process that proof exists of women deacons in early church history. Wanting to bring awareness to this, Sophia designed a traditional deacon vestment with detailed robe and orarion, Every element in the vestment serves a specific purpose; the colors are traditional Orthodox vestment colors (deep red and gold) and the orarion has images of three significant women from the Orthodox church.
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE
As a self-proclaimed musical theatre obsessive, Meredith Roberts ’17 headed to the bright lights of Broadway when it came time to pick an SRP topic. She examined nine musicals’ for their social and political themes, and researched how these musicals made an impact on their audiences. From the “King and I” and “Chorus Line” to “Hair” and “Rent,” Meredith found that musical theatre is revolutionary, and the themes and context often transcend time to affect audiences of all eras. You can learn more on her webpage.
WHAT'S YOUR HAIRSTORY?
After watching the Chris Rock documentary “Good Hair,” Nia Harris ’17 decided to investigate how the standard of beauty affects the culture of hair and self-esteem of African-American women. Nia interviewed African American women about their hair and their relationship to their hair. She complied the responses as podcasts on her website “What’s Your Hairstory?” She found that most of the women felt insecure about their hair at some point in their lives, though confidence grew as they aged. And those women with natural hair hoped they inspire other African-American women to love their hair, Nia included.
SEX TRAFFICKING & WATER USAGE IN LAS VEGAS
Kari Savoie ’17 found her SRP inspiration in the place that her family likes to vacation, Las Vegas. She was intrigued by the way certain values are magnified there, and began researching the wasting of water and sex trafficking as separate topics. Kari learned that the same process leads to both problems—a culture of recklessness and indulgence that leads people to believe that their actions do not have consequences—and that these two disparate topics have more in common than initially thought. In the end, Kari created a 3D art piece that included a water fountain surrounded by Las Vegas call girl cards—provocative and insightful.
CRIMINALIZATION AND COPING
Elizabeth Patterson '18 researched how stereotypes placed on black women and girls lead to the criminalization and marginalization of black girls and women in school and the workforce. These stereotypes lead to the adultification of black girls and, in turn, to harsher punishments for black girls in schools (including suspension, expulsion, and school-related arrests) than their white counterparts. Her final project, a video presentation, includes interviews with black girls and women to connect the concept of adultification with actual faces and experiences to give viewers the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and actions.
FINDING SPACE IN OUTER SPACE
Jennifer Miranti ’17 took to the skies for her SPR. She researched orbital slots, satellites in space and the international governing body that decides which countries get to put them there. She found that more developed countries own most of the orbital slots—the pathways that satellites travel—leaving second and third world countries at a technological disadvantage. Why does this matter? Jennifer created a video to explain this inequality.
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is an all girls' Catholic, Dominican, independent, college-preparatory day and boarding high school in the hills of La Cañada Flintridge. Overlooking Pasadena, FSHA educates girls from Los Angeles, Southern California and around the world for a life of faith, integrity and truth.
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy
440 St. Katherine Drive La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011 High School Office: 626-685-8300 Admissions: 626-685-8521