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School board examine senior project's validity

By: Melody Stone Journal staff writer
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The senior project problem What to do about senior projects? That’s the question the Placer Union High School District board of trustees has been asking themselves for about two years. The trustees have been in ongoing discussions about the validity of the 20-year-old district-wide graduation requirement, which included talk of ending the program. Maureen "Mo" Ward, president of the school board, said she’s more in favor of restructuring the program and not a complete dismantle or elimination. Ward said one of the main issues is that schools all run the program differently. Ward said Del Oro High School centered its projects more on community development and involved the social studies teachers. Chana High School, the continuation school, doesn’t put much emphasis on the community involvement aspect of the project. Colfax High School geared the program toward career preparation. Placer High School kept the program close to the original conception, a balanced culmination of skills, Ward said. "There are some teachers who aren’t really happy about (the project)," Ward said. She said critics say students work with technology more today. They also do a lot more public speaking and students are now required to pass a high school exit exam so the project isn’t as relevant as it once was. Brittany Haydon teaches English at Placer and directs the senior projects. Haydon said she realizes the difference between sites may be a problem. She said she’s confident the project is serving its purpose at Placer and she wants to keep it that way. "Chana High School has different students with different needs,” Haydon said. "We don’t want to be penalized because it’s working for us, because some of the other sites aren’t happy with it." Chana students weigh in on senior projects Students at Chana have a wide range of views regarding the senior project. Chana senior Brent Freeman doesn’t see the value in his senior project, which he said is a research, presentation and speech about roofing. Unlike the other schools, Chana doesn’t stress the community aspect of the project, Freeman said. “I think it’s B.S.,” Freeman said. “You go to school for 12 years and if you don’t pass this you don’t get your diploma.” Shelby Andrews transferred to Chana after her father died and she stopped going to class at Del Oro. She said she planned to do a fun run to raise money for the Sleep Apnea Association. But when she discovered Chana requirements were less stringent, she wrote a paper about nursing. “I don’t find it real challenging,” Andrews said. “(There’s) no community involvement whatsoever.” Andrews said she wished she could be held to a higher standard, but doubts all the students at Chana could deliver. Chana student Kaila Stedman said she knows of students who transferred to Chana to avoid doing a rigorous student project at Placer. Stedman said she is glad Chana doesn’t require students to put a lot of time and energy into a project. She’s working toward graduation, while taking care of her 1-year-old son, Mason Kile. Having a child inspired her to research a career in the medical profession as a registered nurse for her senior project. Stedman figured out what colleges she wanted to go to and what jobs she can work as a registered nurse. But she didn’t volunteer at a hospital or shadow a nurse. Stedman has friends who are working on their senior projects at Placer and said she doesn’t think she could do that kind of project and still raise a baby. “The senior projects at Placer are very stressful,” Stedman said. “I think because the senior project is different at all the schools in the district it’s not fair to make it a graduation requirement.” Stedman would prefer the senior project be a required assignment for senior English classes, but not for graduation. Haydon said throughout high-school English curriculum students are assigned research papers, but some students choose not to write them. Because the senior project is required for graduation those students are forced to write possibly the first research paper in their high-school careers. "After (the students) give their speech I think they realize 'wow that was worthwhile'," Haydon said. Placer students share thoughts about senior projects Placer Senior Tommy Yule wrote his paper on emotionally disturbed youth. He said he’s torn on the issue of having the project be a graduation requirement. "I think it should because it teaches you more what to do in life. It teaches you more responsibility,” Yule said. “(But) it stresses you out too much. You just want to give up." Yule is planning on organizing a carnival for the developmentally challenged students at Placer. Placer Senior Tyler Burzinski wrote his paper on the history of skateboarding. He plans to shoot a full-length skate video. He said he saw value in the research portion of the project. "In the real world I'm going to be taking filming classes to eventually turn it into a career,” Burzinski said. "(The paper’s) not really enjoyable but it's a good learning experience." Senior Projects and the budget Jeff Tooker, assistant superintendent for educational services, said rethinking the project isn’t necessitated because of the budget crisis and the budget won’t play into the board’s decision. "They are trying to evaluate senior project on the merits of senior project and not let funding get in the way of that,” Tooker said. "Everyone is hyper-sensitive right now to protecting programs. Which is reasonable. It’s reasonable to be concerned." The board will meet again for discussion and possible action on this topic March 30.