When senior Caroline Keyvani was deciding what to explore for her Personal Interest Project in Dan Slack’s English class last year, she drew on a subject near and dear to her heart: making nutritious meals accessible to domestic violence survivors. From that project came Balanced Body, Resilient Mind, which she recently published on Amazon.
The Personal Interest Project allows students to delve deeply into a topic that they are passionate about or interested in, then design a final project and share the results of their yearlong study in a form of their choosing. Balanced Body, Resilient Mind is inspired by Keyvani’s spirit of volunteerism, her own nutritional journey, and her pre-existing outreach initiative called Veggie Friends Produce Project, which delivers donations from a local orchard to local domestic violence shelters twice a month in an effort to make fresh produce regularly available for residents. The book provides recipe ideas, research, advice, and promotes plant-based eating, and proceeds help support the expansion of the project’s work.
Over the course of her junior year, Caroline collected research, surveyed domestic violence shelter residents, tested recipes, photographed food, shadowed a nutritionist/family practitioner, and collected interviews from influencers in plant-based and vegan living. Her findings guided the structure and content of the book, which she created with Adobe InDesign and Blurb publishing software. She met with AIS alumna Abbe Wright ’03, senior editor at Penguin Random House, during the summer after junior year, and gained valuable insights into the publication and promotion of a book.
Caroline published the book this year as part of the Penn Social Innovators Program, an initiative that offers students a unique, real-world experience in developing their ideas and passions into companies, nonprofits, and social movements. Agnes Irwin is the only partner school in Pennsylvania, offering students with the opportunity to transform ideas for change into reality.
“I am so grateful for the love and support I have received from the AIS community as I worked on this project,” Caroline remarked. “Teachers at Agnes Irwin have supported and encouraged me to work toward goals, big or small, and have created an environment that makes me feel that my passions are worth exploring.”
Mr. Slack is pleased to see Caroline’s PIP evolve into a published book. “A clear indication that a student is passionate about a topic is that her work on it extends beyond the classroom,” says Slack. “That’s certainly the case with Caroline’s PIP. This beautiful collection of stories, recipes, and photography is the tangible outcome Caroline's efforts last year on her PIP, and she took the time to publish her work in order to share it with the world and raise money for a worthy cause.”
Slack first integrated a form of the PIP project into his classroom three years ago, inspired by “20% Time,” a Google policy that encouraged employees to spend 20 percent of their work week exploring projects they felt would most benefit the company. In the education world, 20% Time means giving students time to develop passion projects of their own, a concept that Slack explored during his time in the Legacy Through Leadership professional development program. Research shows that girls learn best when they have the freedom to direct their own learning and connect it to their lives in an authentic way. The PIP allows for this, while also giving girls an opportunity to hone their independent research skills, learn how to pace a project over an extended period of time, and reflect on their own learning styles, developing key skills for college and beyond.
In recent years, PIPs have ranged from exploring food insecurity in the Philadelphia region and proposing solutions to the Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Children and Youth; reimagining modest fashion with African fabric and jewelry influences through a photoshoot and blog creation; building a full-sized wooden model of Disney’s Wall-E Robot — complete with adjustable arms, pivoting head, and the ability to be steered; and more.