Printed on: February 08, 2013

Senior project requirement challenges prospective graduates

By Nate Sunderland
nsunderland@postregister.com

A new gradation requirement challenges Idaho high school seniors to move beyond their comfort zones.

Starting this year, graduating seniors must complete a project to receive their diplomas. The goal is to give students a look at what they will encounter in college and as adults entering the workforce.

"The senior project is a culmination of a student's academic experience throughout their high school career," State Board of Education spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said. "It gives students the opportunity to work through everything they have learned and put it into a written and oral form."

Under the project concept, introduced by the State Board of Education in 2007, students and school districts are given significant leeway. The only state stipulations are that students write a research paper and make an oral presentation.

Most school districts encourage projects that relate to a future career and involve community interaction.

Skyline High School senior Gaby Woods-Batalden, 18, designed her project around helping disabled children.

For the past few weeks, Woods-Batalden has given skating lessons to disabled children. Her "classroom" is the outdoor rink at Tautphaus Park.

"I love to skate and I love working with disabled kids, and so this just clicked," she said.

Senior projects are not classroom-driven. Students must complete the projects on their own time but are guided by academic advisers and community mentors.

"Students are not just thrown out there; there are advisers every step of the way," Skyline High School achievement coordinator Susan Bergquist said. "We provide them (with materials) that provide an A to Z of how to get this done."

At Skyline, students must complete 15 hours of work on their projects.

To complete her project, Woods-Batalden advertised in Idaho Falls and arranged to use donated hockey gear for the students who signed up.

"It's a lot of work because you've got to go out and do it and then make this giant presentation," she said. "It can be frustrating (because) it takes so much time ... but I also get to spend time with disabled kids, which is a lot of fun."

Many projects focus on learning a new skill or honing skills already mastered.

Idaho Falls High School senior Cameron Heward is learning Hawaiian dance that is performed with fire.

Senior Taylor Matthias, also from Idaho Falls High School, is composing saxophone music for an upcoming concert.

Skyline High School seniors Jasmine Abreo, 17, and Kelly Rabadan, 18, paired up to paint a mural in a room in the pediatric unit at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Not all students are fond of the new graduation requirement. Some were a bit disoriented because the projects are so different from a typical classroom assignment.

"I think senior projects are a horrible idea, because it was just thrown at us and no one knows what they are doing and the teachers can't really help us," Skyline High School senior Winter Enright said. "I feel like we are the guinea pigs ... because there isn't a lot of structure to this."

Unlike a classroom assignment, where students work in groups with a teacher, senior projects force students to create assignments and then complete them without specific instructions from a teacher.

Enright, 17, said senior projects are just another hoop to jump through before graduation.

Teachers, however, said projects have value and pointed out that there is a large support system to help students complete their assignments.

"This isn't just jumping through another hoop, this is a wonderful learning tool for these students," Bergquist said. "There is a whole lot of merit to these projects because they better prepare students for life after high school."

Nate Sunderland can be reached at 542-6763. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk/.