All juniors tackle an intensive independent research paper in their English classes based on a topic of personal interest and curiosity. It can and should be a profound learning experience for the student. In the case of Rachel's project, it also had an impact on one of the adults she interviewed.
Rachel's topic, divorce, put her in touch with lawyer and Randolph parent Amy Creech, who guided Rachel in her research. After reading Rachel's paper on the effects of divorce on children, Amy stated, "I have been practicing family law for 14 years and Rachel's paper has changed the way I practice. I want every parent who walks in my door to have a copy so that they know the child’s perspective."
Rachel '17 explains how her I-Search paper developed.
I started attending Randolph my freshman year, without ever having written a true essay.
All the juniors in Ms. Rossuck’s class complete a huge research project called the “I-Search” during third quarter. For this, we have to complete extensive research, two interviews, an experience, and a site visit all leading up to writing a lengthy paper. Luckily, we are given free rein over choosing our topic; it can be about anything that is interesting and relevant to us personally.
As you can imagine, I was overwhelmed by the prospect of having to do this much in-depth work. I had never done anything like this before. Ms. Rossuck unofficially introduced the project to us before winter break, in order to let it “sit on the back burner” in our minds. I almost immediately knew what I wanted to talk about, much to my surprise.
I chose to talk about the effects of divorce on children. While I wasn’t sure what unique spin I would incorporate, I knew I wanted that to be my topic.
The first thing we got was a research guide. We had to fill a page, front and back, with possible sources, which with the help of a LibGuide and the search skills we had been working on since 9th grade, was surprisingly easy and gratifying. Throughout the rest of the project, we were required to keep a work log and turn in notes. I think this practice of accountability was an extremely effective motivator for me.
I began by reading many articles relating to the effects of divorce on children and the different strategies parents should take to minimize these. Throughout this preliminary research, I found that I kept coming across one theme: The common perception of divorce was not the same as the actual repercussions.
I had a sneaking suspicion that twist could really make my paper interesting. So I decided to pursue it.
I already had one interview set up with a divorce attorney, Mrs. Creech, but I decided to take a long shot on my second interview. There is a book that is commonly considered groundbreaking within the study of divorce: Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt. This book was the first long-term study of the effects of divorce on children that truly focused on the emotional aspect. This was very important to me because my parents are divorced. While they have a “good divorce,” it has undoubtedly affected me, and so this emotional component was essential in my search.
I decided to email Mrs. Marquardt, who lives and works in Chicago, to see if she would be willing to do an interview. To my great surprise and excitement, she actually agreed! When she emailed to say I could call her anytime and that she would love to talk to me, it was honestly a moment of immense clarity for me. I realized that I could do anything and explore anything for this project. I immediately began poring through her book, so that I could know about her research and ask her hopefully profound questions.
I realized that I could do and explore anything for this project.
As expected, due to my topic, both of my interviews were slightly emotional. However, they were truly amazing experiences. I was able to talk to two professionals and have them address me as an equal and treat my questions with concern and care before formulating a helpful answer.
While I came to incorporate many of their answers in my paper to help support my conclusion, my most unique finding was that both of these well known experts agreed with me. The popular ideas about divorce did not match up with the realities.
This sparked my idea for an experience. I ended up watching three movies and listening to four songs that addressed divorce to gain an understanding of how media portrays divorce. I did this because I believe media is the most influential thing shaping society’s perceptions today. Honestly, the fact that I was able to watch movies as a part of a research project really shows how much freedom we had to explore our topics.
For my site visit, I went to the Family Services Center downtown to learn more about what they specifically offer this community. I was able to even see a visitation, where a parent is only allowed to see their child post-divorce in a supervised setting. It was sad that this has to happen, but good to be exposed to the reality.
In the end, this extensive research paid off. Through all the articles, interviews, movies, songs, and questions, I was able to find an answer. My initial question was: What are the effects of divorce on children? Through the help of Ms. Rossuck and my findings, it morphed into two specific questions: What is the most prominent effect of divorce on children? And, Does media portray divorce accurately?
I found that forced and early maturity was the most prominent effect of divorce on children. I also found that movies and forms of media focused only on profit do not show divorce accurately, but more open forms of media, such as songs, do.
The fact that I was able to take a school project to answer personal questions and research to find a supported answer to back this up was an invaluable experience. I now feel confident in my research skills, writing, and deductive reasoning. Through guidance and curiosity, I was able to take something that had always interested me and turn it into an intriguing and evidence-supported 15-page paper.
At school, Rachel is involved in Echo, Youth Leadership Council, and the Thespian Troupe. She has been a student stage manager, and even a student director, for Theatre Randolph productions. In her free time, even when it's not part of her I-Search, she enjoys watching movies and listening to music.