Whitinsville Christian School (WCS) is embracing the idea of experience-based learning with programs at the
middle school and high school levels. Students are allowed to explore their own areas of interest through
Guided Independent Study and Senior Capstone Projects.
Open to all middle school students, Guided Independent Study (GIS) is an elective class that was introduced in
the 2015-16 academic year. Participating students identify a project in an area they feel passionate about, that
they don’t already know a great deal about, and that they believe the results of which can have an impact on
others. “One of our goals at Whitinsville Christian School is intrinsic learning. We want our students to love
learning and to see that learning is valuable,” said Mary Dykstra, Middle School Principal and Capstone
“There is a growing movement in education toward experience-based learning,” said Mark DeWeerd, middle
school teacher and advisor to the Guided Independent Study class. “The idea behind the program is to allow
students to grab onto their own sense of imagination.” As the advisor, Mr. DeWeerd facilitates the class, but
students are also encouraged to have professional mentors. One student is writing a children’s book and has
been able to correspond with author Jane Yolen. “The students are learning to communicate with adults and
advocate for themselves,” said Mr. DeWeerd. Other student projects include a basketball shoe ranking app that
was recently given the go-ahead from Apple and the production of a smartphone stand using an online CAD
program and the school’s 3D printer.
During their senior year, students are offered the choice of writing a research paper or completing a Senior
Capstone Project, a program launched five years ago. Between 10-15% of students choose to complete a
Capstone Project. “It allows kids to go pretty much anywhere they want to go with a project. Nothing matches
the joy and satisfaction they get,” said Chris Vander Baan, High School Principal and Capstone Committee
The Capstone Project must be feasible, demonstrate a learning stretch, be something for which they have a
passion, and have value, according to Mrs. Dykstra. Unlike GIS, all work is completed outside of class time.
Some of this year’s projects include the production of a middle school musical, the publication of a cookbook
with all proceeds benefiting the Northbridge Food Pantry, establishing a WCS DECA club, and the composition of
a three-movement piano piece. “Both Guided Independent Study and the Capstone Project are great curricular
additions to WCS,” said Mrs. Dykstra.