One-on-one relationships key at DSIS

Student artwork is displayed in the library at DSIS.
Student artwork is displayed in the library at DSIS.

By Meghan Bobrowsky, Editor–

Nestled inside the Davis Joint Unified School District Office is one of the lesser-known schools in the district: the Davis School for Independent Study (DSIS).

DSIS, which first opened in the 1991-92 school year, is an alternative form of schooling in which students meet with their assigned teacher for an hour to two hours a week and receive the necessary schoolwork, which is done at home. According to the official DSIS website, the school has graduated more than 678 students.

Students can start attending DSIS as early as kindergarten and can graduate from the school at the end of their senior year. The school is split into two buildings: one for kindergarten through eighth and the other for the remaining four grades of high school.

Sarah Roseen, who became principal of DSIS in October, explained some similarities and differences between DSIS and Davis High.

“Our students do not have the same educational experience as students at any other site in terms of setting and environment,” Roseen said. “However, we do ensure that our students receive a standards-based, challenging, broad and college preparatory education, with the same textbooks and novels used at [DHS].”

DSIS teacher Amy Thomson works in the building for younger children and collaborates with homeschooling families.

“This gives kids another choice,” said Thomson, who has worked at DSIS for 21 years. “I think it’s an advantage because they can work one-on-one.”

In addition to individual meetings, Thomson hosts group classes called “workshops” with as many as 14 kids. Her workshops are designed to teach the elementary science curriculum and do experiments that a student wouldn’t be able to conduct alone at home.

Thomson remembers that her smallest class consisted of four kids; whether four or 14 students, DSIS class sizes are always smaller than traditional school class sizes of 30 or more students.

“It’s a different way to approach things in that there’s a lot of good choices available [for schooling],” Thomson said.

DSIS junior Hallie Lassiter agrees. Lassiter has been a student at the school since she moved to Davis five years ago.

“I feel like at DSIS there’s encouragement to just do what you think is best for yourself,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter has formed a strong bond with teacher Cathy Scarr. If Lassiter has a question and it’s not time for her weekly meeting, she can email or text Scarr for a quick reply. Scarr explained that maintaining a good student-teacher relationship is very critical for the student to be successful.

“My goal is that kids leave our school excited about learning things and knowing that they have the ability to learn on their own,” Scarr said.

In some cases, Scarr wants to change students’ views about school.

“I had a really sad story today. I had a kid who was having trouble getting started writing and he’s like, ‘You know, every time I write something, a teacher would just hand it back with a bunch of marks on it. I felt like I couldn’t do it.’ And that was his experience of writing,” Scarr said.

Author and speaker Diane Flynn Keith, who runs a website about designing homeschooling educations, emphasized that intellectual curiousity and self-directed learning are keys to succeeding in a school setting outside the traditional environment.

“[Homeschooling] addresses [the student’s] specific needs, abilities and interests, and allows them to learn at their own pace,” Keith said.


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