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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Independent Study in Music (With Videos!)

Transferring to Prescott College was a big change for me. Before coming here, I had only studied music and German. Throughout my entire life, I had never considered being anything but a singer (whether it be musical theater, folk, or opera) and, in my last year of music school, a music teacher. I invested so much time and energy in my music education, starting voice lessons at age eleven and attending Interlochen Arts Academy and Westminster Choir College. So when I suddenly stopped wanting voice and music education for my career path, I took a year off, spent that year in Germany, and reevaluated what was important to me, and how I wanted to make a difference in the world.

It became clear to me that my priority was actually the environment. Luckily, I had already heard of Prescott College, and quickly decided that it was a perfect fit for me. But after a year without music, I felt I was ready to return to it, just on a much smaller scale. I decided to make Music Education my breadth, and continue my studies on my own terms.

Prescott College has many wonderful, fantastic classes and programs, but unfortunately it does not have music. This obviously makes studying Music Education difficult! Luckily I attend an institution that values self-directed learning, and I was able to do an independent study this semester in choral conducting. This semester, I conducted a choir of eighteen people, and it was challenging and rewarding and beautiful. After so many years of singing, I was in front of the choir for the first time, and I learned every step of the way. And on Friday, we gave a fantastic performance with over 100 people in the audience.

Prescott College is a unique institution. It offers small class sizes, excellent professors, and wonderful, specialized areas of study that prepare its graduates for bright, meaningful futures. If enough students have the will to make it happen, we could have music classes, too! Some people thought I was out of my mind to try and make this independent study happen, but I did and it was extremely successful. Prescott College students are strong-willed and passionate, and can do just about anything if they put their mind to it. If you want a class that doesn’t exist here, try to make it happen! Send emails, barrage professors, recruit your friends. If I can get eighteen Prescott College students with completely different schedules to volunteer for a choir… you can make it happen, too.

A word of advice to high-school students: Be open-minded and consider all your options. I was so convinced that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life that I didn’t even consider anything else. Consequently, I didn’t pay much attention in my science classes, for example, because I didn’t think I would ever need that information again… and now my competence is Environmental Policy. You never know what surprises life may hand you, and it’s wise to keep all your options open. Soak up as much knowledge as you can! You might never need it again, but it will only contribute to your education as a human being. It can’t hurt to understand how photosynthesis works, even if you may never need to know it again.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Semester of Independent Studies (dun dun DUNNNN!): AKA Time- and Stress- Management

Well, sometimes, life just happens. And when it does, there are two realistic options: sit back and do nothing, or get moving and do something. Me…I’m the “do something” kind of woman. It is hard for me to not have a back-up plan lined up (or several) when the road of life starts getting bumpy.
Due to a number of factors, I will not be able to participate in on-campus courses offered by the college. After nearly two weeks of juggling huge decisions, I decided that I would take a Leave of Absence from the college to pursue a full-time job. I filled out the application and had one of three meetings done. Then, in a stroke of enlightened genius, I had a great idea: I wanted to make my whole semester Independent Studies courses so that I could still work full-time.

After confirming this with my supervisors, I knew that it was possible! All I had to do was get my advisor on board. When I did set up an appointment with my awesome advisor (Grace Burford), she was excited and expressed how confident she was in my capabilities to be self-directed and motivated. But, she did say I needed to talk to the Dean first…and talk with him I did. Our Dean is super understanding, and after explaining my situation and needs to him, he became very supportive.

Also, after speaking with another amazing woman (Gret Antilla), we figured that I could combine my previously enrolled in education courses (Authentic Assessment and Curriculum Design) into a hybrid course that approaches both of these individual courses through an Expeditionary Learning perspective. This works for me and my graduation requirements because I am not enrolled in the Teacher’s Certification program in Education. We confirmed our idea with the Director of Education and we got the green light!
As you can imagine, all that has led to and has become this is fairly stressful…for anyone! This situation has forced me to be extremely attentive to my time management and stress management skills and practice. So, this is kind of what this article is about; the pressures of time and stress on creating Independent Studies (or college life in general).

Creating an Independent Study is just like creating your own course; you need to have everything in order! With the help of your advisor, you work together to create a course description, a list of assignments (including an optional tentative schedule), a method of evaluation, you determine whether the course will be Lower- or Upper-Division, you decide whether or not to make it Writing Emphasis, and you supply a tentative bibliography. This will go through at least one more draft, so make sure to leave time for that! Thankfully, I have already created an IS (Independent Study) for this Fall 2012 semester, and I know my way around the contract. Still, I have about a week to get an IS done for my Winter 2013 block, and then maybe two weeks to get my hybrid IS done before the Spring 2013 semester starts. And, this is all going on while this semester is coming to a close and I’m trying to complete portfolios for other classes.

To deal with the strict time constraints I have to work with, I have a planner.
This planner is no ordinary planner. I color code everything. Also, sticky notes are wonderful tools in helping me to pay attention to very important, upcoming deadlines. I use fluorescent highlighters to color code different categories: 1) Yellow is for Health & Wellness, 2) Orange is for Special Events, 3) Pink is for School, 3) Blue is for Other, and 3) Purple (now Green) is for Work. Bright sticky notes are also used. My life is reflected in my planner and I feel lost and unorganized without it. It is a method that has worked for me since middle school and I plan to use it the rest of my life.

Recently, I have figured out that technology is also wonderful for organizing time. I frequently put alerts onto my iPhone to remind me of things, and cross-check my information with calendars on Facebook and websites.
Time management at college depends on communication. I learned very quickly (early in life), that communication is key. Part of time management revolves around the time other people have organized for themselves. If you have a question, idea, or want to work something out quickly, check with the professor or administrators! Let them know what’s going on early so that you both can quickly schedule a time to meet with each other and go over a plan of action. This ends up being a fairly off-putting experience for the both of you because it puts you both through extra (and definitely unnecessary!) stress.

This brings me to my next topic: stress management.
Stress happens. Actually, stress is a reaction to the stuff happening around us; we can choose to be stressed or not. But, if you’re like me (broke, independent from parents, a student, working two jobs, etc.) succumbing to stress and anxiety is my initial reaction.  No it is not ideal, but that’s the way it happens (and, believe me, I have been working hard to change that).

Everyone deals with their stress differently. My sister ignores it…don’t do that, it’s not healthy. My mom goes out with girlfriends or coworkers. My little brother plays outside. My dad exercises. I, primarily, don’t even know how to deal with stress when I first allow it to be my reaction. I get very overwhelmed and usually end up having to physically exhaust myself out of it (swimming, running, or simply crying it all out), before I can rationally analyze my situation.
But, as I said, I have been getting better at this.

Recently, I’ve started to incorporate yoga and meditation. When something is really bothering me and I don’t trust myself to speak to someone about it just yet, I write in my journal. I call my mom and family a lot…that helps exponentially. Finally, I have a small (but wonderful) family here that helps me to decompress and relieve stress. My boyfriend is amazing. He’s supportive and listens well, and he gives great advice. He’s also very helpful at assisting me in creating a plan of action. His daughter is fourteen, and we get along well. When either or both of us are stressed, we cook a great meal together and then sit down to watch and episode or two of Glee (and usually belt the songs out with the cast). Sometimes, we sit down and create crafts together (the last couple of days we made Holidays cards). In our house, we also have a designated “Wellness Room” which is only used for reading, studying, mediation, art and yoga. Then, I have my dog, Orion.

This little (he’s actually about 50 pounds) dog is a great stress reliever. He’s always down to cuddle and loves to be petted. Taking him for walks helps reduce my stress and gets him to reduce his energy.
Other ways in which I “solo cope” are by reading, painting, or drawing. Baking and cooking are also wonderfully stress-relieving for me because I associate them with family, warm and fuzzy feelings, community, and good times. And, when I just don’t want to do anything constructive to relieve my stress, I’ll buy ice cream and watch a hilarious movie (Adam Sandler and Will Farrell are my go-to actors).

As I said, there are many ways to reduce stress…you just need to find what works for you.
A final piece; it always helps to have a mantra. I have a few:
1)      My mom tells me often to “Be strong”. In the face of adversity, I whisper this to myself often.
2)      “Trust and let go.” This one is written on things I frequently look at (my phone and planner, for instance).
3)      Finally, there’s another one from my mom “Everything happens for a reason.” Yes, yes it does. And it ALWAYS turns out better than it was when it all began.

So…take heart in knowing that you are not alone!
Also, please take the measures (as a current or future student) to manage your time wisely and make the time to reduce any stress or anxiety you feel.

 In Peace,
Angelica R. Brady 12.11.12