Winsor’s Inaugural Action Research Cohort

By Gia Bharadwaj and Natasha Dalziel 

The Banner is excited to announce the commencement of Winsor’s first action research cohort, or W.A.R.C.! Denise Labieniec, a scientist and institutional researcher, introduced this cohort to the Upper School in September 2022 after years of wanting to bring an action research opportunity to Winsor. The cohort’s advisors, Ms. Labieniec and Head of Wellness Department Amanda Valenzuela, chose seven passionate Class VII students to comprise the group: Ainsley Wang, Annie Fisher, Aoife Beswick, Gricelda Castro, Natasha Dalziel, Paige Whalen, and Zoe Vittori-Koch. W.A.R.C. and additional schools are part of a larger collaborative at The Hewitt School, the Hewitt Action Research Collaborative. The group will run through the end of the 2022–23 academic year and present their work at a roundtable in New York City at its conclusion. 

Throughout the process, the advisors will be essential to the group’s success. Ms. Labieniec will provide guidance from her experience working with quantitative data sets, most recently the Authentic Connections survey. Meanwhile, Ms. Valenzuela will be integral to creating a unified group and handling personal data thoughtfully. Despite their expertise, Ms. Labieniec emphasizes, “What we don’t want to do is overlay our expectations of what this research is going to be on what [the students] come up with because we really want this to be student-driven.”

On November 16, the group held their first meeting to discuss their specific area of work: participatory action research. In this approach to sociology, researchers explore an environment in which they participate, intending to act upon their findings to create change. Before beginning specific, more independent research, the students will consider different approaches to social science research, evaluate their ethical responsibilities, get certified to do human subject research, and create a group research question.

One group member, Paige Whalen ’24, “has always been interested in how the mind works and what drives human decisions,” and she saw the cohort as an opportunity to explore the practical applications of social science. Whalen hopes to “take the research and create a plan that will actually initiate change that we can notice, realize, and appreciate.” Ultimately, she is both excited for the chance to help our community flourish and grateful that students have been given a powerful voice in our future.

Ms. Labieniec identifies three primary goals of this new cohort. First, she wants to create a sustainable model for the future of student-led research at Winsor. Second, the cohort aims to bring a new independent research opportunity to Winsor that caters more to interests in the humanities and sociology rather than only S.T.E.M. Lastly, Ms. Labieniec articulates, “I think a really productive way to critique or support your community is to do it through actual research.” Action research lends itself to forming an informed perspective, gathering evidence-based claims, and being able to identify a problem to address thoughtfully.

Ms. Labieniec estimates that we will next hear from this group when their research question is formed. Following the formation of the question, ongoing communication with the student body and faculty will be important for transparency and gathering research participants. In the meantime, the group will be working hard to explore the various facets of social science research and the ways in which they can help Winsor reach its full potential.