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ISM Students Present Projects, Thank Mentors (May 18, 2007)

Allison Mayes with her mentor, Susanna Burke, former ISM studentCristina Burke with mentor, Garry Brown, television producerOnly time will tell if the students who participated in the Independent Study and Mentor program (ISM) at Frisco High School (FHS) and Centennial High School (CHS) will continue their interests in law, science, teaching, music, fashion design, architecture, film production, and the many other fields studied this year. But the final projects displayed at the end of the year indicate that the ISM class continues to attract some of the best and brightest Frisco has to offer.

ISM is not a traditional class of lectures and note-taking. Students are often off campus working with mentors – though they report to their instructors regularly, according to Laura Simpson, FHS ISM teacher and Di Ann Hill, CHS ISM teacher. Throughout the year they learn how to write a resume, hone interview skills and the proper way to dress for business meetings. They give detailed progress reports to their teachers and must always check out before leaving school. ISM is designed to let students pursue their interests with a mentor and to complete a portfolio and project over the course of two semesters. Students may work with their mentors off-site at such places as hospitals, medical offices, JC Penney headquarters, elementary classrooms and even churches. Each six weeks students must turn in completed packets that track their progress and meet certain requirements for the class.

Some students seek out traditional fields such as architecture – Ben Friend and Lauren Howey both worked with architects during the year to learn about the field as a possible career choice. Others studied fields that do not always require college degrees – such as music and cosmetology. Alysse Specht of CHS worked with a professional from the Campbell Agency. Allison Mayes chose her mentor from last year’s FHS ISM class. Susanna Burke is currently enrolled in the Dallas Institute of Art thanks in part to winning second place for her original handbag in a national design scholarship contest last year. She worked with Mayes, who designed a formal ball gown as her project.

Susanna Burke’s sister Cristina, who attends Centennial High School, is interested in film production. She had not found a mentor when she read that the television program “Prison Break” was filming in Dallas. She left school early one day to travel to the closed off area where filming was taking place and armed with letters explaining ISM and her project begged people to pass the envelopes on to anyone who could help her. Garry Brown of 20th century Fox, producer of several episodes of Prison Break, answered her call for help. Brown and his wife were Cristina’s guests at this week’s final presentation night at Centennial High School. Christina commented that she is evidence that people should be persistent when pursuing a goal.

The program is designed for seniors but occasionally juniors are allowed to participate. Junior Nirjhor Rahman, who wants to be involved in international business, will continue his project next year, which involves creating a 9/11 memorial at Centennial.

Frisco’s ISM class is gaining statewide attention. Teams from Mansfield ISD and from Bushland ISD in Amarillo attended the final presentations and visited with Simpson and Hill about the class.

Hill said that working with ISM students is the epitome of teaching. “Providing guidance and direction to highly motivated young people and helping them to realize their dreams, it doesn’t get any more rewarding or satisfying,” she said.

Simpson, who initiated ISM in Frisco, describes the ISM students as “top notch.” She is proud of how responsibly and professionally they have represented the school district in the community, she said. “Our program would not be possible without our dedicated mentors who are truly worthy of emulation.” Students presented their mentors with gifts of appreciation as part of the final presentations.

Next year’s ISM students have already been selected through the application process. ISM will be implemented in the other FISD high schools as they begin to have seniors.