Placer students gear up for senior projects

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer High seniors don't have time to slack during their final semester of school. Staff intends to keep the students busy enough that the infamous senioritis doesn't even have a chance to kick in before graduation day. It makes the kids accountable, said Brittany Haydon, Placer High English teacher and senior project coordinator. Their head still has to be in the game. They have no choice, until June 3, but to be a part of school. Seniors have between now and the end of the school year to take on something new, stretch their comfort level and hopefully learn something about themselves in the process. Want to take up belly dancing? Now's the time to do it. Considering a career in chemistry? Want to establish healthier eating habits? Why not plant a vegetable garden? It's something that has to be a stretch or a challenge, Haydon said. We've always looked at it as something they've always wanted to do but haven't had the opportunity to experience. We want them to do something outside of the box, something out of their comfort level, something that makes them uncomfortable. This is Haydon's first year as senior project coordinator, after taking over for Michael Duda, a Placer High English teacher who served as coordinator since the school began the program in 1991. Interestingly enough, Haydon was one of the first to complete a senior project at Placer High, using the opportunity to accompany a family friend undergoing dialysis. I was a part of the guinea-pigged class of 1991, she said. The senior project is kind of like a New Year's resolution, only this one you can't break ” it's a graduation requirement mandated by the Placer Union High School District. Senior Lauren Hare has chosen to rehabilitate an animal through Gold Country Wildlife Rescue. I think it's something that we're actually going to enjoy, she said of senior projects. It's all things you want to do or are going to do in the future. Kaci Knighton is excited to give interior design a try by decorating the interiors of a cabin her family is building in Truckee. My dad's an architect and does interior design too, so I've been around it, she said. I was thinking about it as a career choice, so I wanted to try it out. Seniors have already chosen their projects, and are putting the finishing touches on a 2,100-to-2,700-word research paper connected to the topic of their projects. I have a lot of kids who are learning how to cook or take a class on home decorating, so maybe they write about Martha Stewart, her rise and fall and rise again, Haydon said. The paper is just one element of the project. Students, of course, have to spend 15 hours outside of the classroom, learning and living the specifics of their projects, and having these hours verified by an adult mentor, 21 or older, who has experience or expertise pertaining to a student's project. We're getting the kids to go out and talk to someone and make a connection with someone in the community, Haydon said. Students incorporate their whole senior-project experience into a portfolio. The final step is to present the project before panels made up of Placer High staff and community members. Every step of the way, seniors are venturing into the real world. It really is an incorporation of everything they've learned in the last four years. I love seeing their pride when they've accomplished something great, Haydon said. It has really become engrained in our tradition. It's cool because everybody is rising to the challenge and becoming part of the tradition. The Journal's Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at