a 2-3 year framework for investigating ideas
Why is access to health care—even when you have health insurance—often such a fight? Kaitlyn Varriale, a junior at John Jay High School, has been digging into this question for over a year—ever since she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and hospitalized for high blood glucose levels. When she was still in the hospital, her insurance company denied her stay. “This is when I experienced the flaws in our system firsthand,” said Kaitlyn. “I’m examining the inequities that persist in our healthcare system through the lens of type 1 diabetes."
Kaitlyn has the time, framework and encouragement to lean into this topic through John Jay High School’s Humanities Research program. The two- to three-year sequence, known as HumRe, is taught by Jill Hirshfeld, Therese Von Steenburg and Katie Torrisi. It approximates the experiences of undergraduates in many liberal arts colleges.
Jill Hirshfeld with HumRe students
combining personal interests and primary sources
Year one exposes students to research methods through units including world affairs, the arts, oral history and sustainability. Students choose a field of inquiry and formulate a question. During year two, and an option of a third year, students continue their research and analysis and complete a paper or project which is presented at a year-end symposium.
This year’s topics include the repercussions of redlining and cooperatives’ positive impact on the climate crisis. Many are sparked by personal experience. When senior Ava Buzzeo was in tenth grade, she volunteered at Capernaum Club, a program for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. “It opened my eyes to a community of people I had honestly never acknowledged,” said Ava. That triggered her research into the nature of disability in western society.
a session with two "Frontline" producers
The ability to converse with active professionals is a key skill HumRe develops. This spring, to help students’ hone their craft of interviewing, Hirshfeld set up a session with Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of "Frontline," the investigative documentary program, and Gabrielle Schonder, a producer and reporter well-known for her work on "Frontline" and "60 Minutes." Students were riveted to the experiences of the two women and asked dozens of questions.
“They mentioned ‘seeking the truth,’” said Seneca Schwartz, a junior who is researching the challenges women face in extreme action sports, the film industry and politics. “It made me appreciate the lengths that journalists go to in order for people to be informed.”
benefits beyond skills in critical analysis
Students agree that HumRe helps them discern college majors and even career direction.
“Through Humanities Research, I found what I want to dedicate the rest of my life to,” said Kaitlyn. She hopes to intern with a health care advocacy organization next year, as a senior. “I want to major in Health Care Policy in college and hopefully become a healthcare lawyer or a hospital administrator to improve community outreach.”