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Graduation Project

Posted Aug 26 2008 12:53pm
I participated in my semi-annual community service this evening by judging senior project presentations at one of the local high schools. I've done this each semester, with two exceptions, since this school started requiring the projects about 5 years ago. Our state just passed regulation that all students will be required to complete a project to graduate starting with the class of 2010, so I guess I get to do this for years to come.

When I was a senior (20+ years ago!), our school gave seniors the option of participating in a senior project. That meant we went to work with a business for three weeks and wrote a paper about it. I already worked at the middle school next door--I covered the secretary's lunch--so I just volunteered to help with a sixth grade class, rather than attend the last three weeks of class virtually alone. I didn't want to teach, but it was something to pass the time. I did love it, and I still have the mug that was my going-away present from the kids and the teacher at the end of the three weeks. Basically, though, in retrospect, we had a three week apprenticeship to replace the days when we didn't want to be in school anymore.

The kids today have to choose something to learn: it can be a skill, a craft, a profession, or a hobby, but it has to be something they don't already know. They must have a mentor who can teach them more about their topic. Then they have to complete the three P's: a paper, a product and a presentation. If I had to do this back then, my paper would have been fantastic, but you'd have lost me on the presentation, as I was terrified of public speaking. They work on this during the semester when they have English, as their English teachers oversee their progress. (My, what alliteration in this p aragraph.)

The papers come first. Usually the product is next. Tonight was the final part, the speech presented to the judges, though some of the students include their product in the presentation phase as well. Most of them are horribly nervous and haven't spoken in front of anyone beyond their own classmates before. Nevertheless, their enthusiasm for their topic and the realization that "after this it's all over" is enough to get them through.

We judges come from all aspects of the community, excluding the current teachers of that school. Three friends of mine who always judge include a retired teacher, the former director of a battered women's shelter, and a retired deputy police officer whose daughter is one of the English teachers at this school. One year, shortly before elections, we had a candidate for the soon-to-be-vacated sheriff's post judging; not surprisingly, he did not show up that December after he won the election.

The classroom I was in had four judges and six student presentations. The only unusual aspect of this was that one of the judges was a teacher from another school that had not yet begun requiring projects of seniors, so she was also learning how to incorporate this newly-required program into her school. Our six students presented on photography (one on nature photos and one focusing on a specific town), soil and water conservation, wedding cake decoration, playing guitar, and working as a dental hygienist. All were excellent, and the final presentor bribed us judges with samples of her decorated cake.

Our classroom had typical presentations on popular topics. Fortunately, their presentation materials are displayed in the school library immediately afterwards, so judges get to see what others students have done. Some of the others included Yoga (popular), dairy cows, floral designing (popular), controlling pet populations, Airborne Army units, and voter registration. In the past I've also seen or heard about students covering bagpipe playing, finger painting, skateboarding, taxidermy, screen-printing t-shirts, veterinary care, quilling, quilting, and small engine repair.

My husband, although he did not accompany me to judge, is also involved in the senior project of a local high school student. The hesitant wrestler in his Aikido class is actually there as part of his project, though for a different school. Recently he asked James for advice on his product. I am curious to learn what he decided to do.

Many of the choices of project make sense to me, even when I see the kids preparing for them or when I see their posterboards in the library afterwards. Although I will never know, I am still curious, several years later now, what presentation the student carrying caged chickens through the hallway was giving.
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