Senior projects stay on the table

Board instructs staff to clarify the project’s intent
By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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Senior projects are intact, but may be headed for a face-lift. The Placer Union High School District board decided pausing or discontinuing the project isn’t a good idea and instructed staff to come up with some different options for re-vamping the graduation requirement. No formal decision was made or voted on at Tuesday’s meeting, but the instructions come after months of discussion surrounding the project’s function, purpose and intent. Without the senior project, Del Oro senior, Brianna Holt said she wouldn’t have garnered the same career skills while in high school. Holt explored graphic design as a career path and learned the importance of marketing. She submitted a press kit and photo of fellow senior, Jakob Stevens to the Journal as part of her senior project. “I wasn’t looking forward to doing senior project originally,” Holt said Wednesday afternoon. “Once we got started on it, I found it very helpful.” Board members are concerned that the requirement is so varied at each school site it no longer serves the original function. After listening to the discussion and talking with board members and school staff, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Tooker gave his formal opinion about senior projects. “My whole career I’ve been in the middle of senior projects,” Tooker said. “I really think there is a clarity issue for our staff. No one seems to know what the original intent or current purpose is.” Tooker said as a graduation requirement the projects are weighted too heavily. He said the project doesn’t serve as an academic assessment because almost 100 percent of stu-dents pass. The new external requirements, such as standardized testing, exit exams and college preparatory standards, provide a better academic assessment. Tooker acknowledged the community support for the projects and said if he had the community’s vantage point he’d want to keep them too. He suggested, not doing away with the project, but hon-ing the requirements. “There needs to be a more guidance as far as clarifying the intent, narrowing the scope, encourag-ing evaluation at each site and making it more manageable for the staff and the students,” Tooker said. “There are all sorts of things that branch out of that.” The elements of a senior project, rigor, relevancy and personal growth, should be stretched throughout the entire year, Tooker said. “It shouldn’t have to be one big culminating project,” Tooker said. Danise Hitchcock, English teacher at Colfax High School and the senior-project coordinator, warned the board not to try a blanket approach to the projects. “I think it would be difficult to develop a one-size-fits-all for the district,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve all gone too far with our senior projects.” Each site has tweaked the project to fit the needs of the students and surrounding community. Holt said she was able to focus on career skills while working in her field of interest. “I wanted to incorporate my passion into my senior project,” Holt said in a press release she pre-pared for the event. “Fortunately for me, this art show is a career study that gives me experience in a field that I already love and hopefully will become successful in.” Holt plans to attend the Art Institute of Seattle in the fall and said she’s glad she was required to execute a senior project, although she’s not looking forward to the speech aspect of the project. “One of my biggest fears is going in front of a crowd,” Holt said. “Going into college I’m going to need this experience. I’m going to need the tools to make a presentation like this.” Board member Ron Oates said he wanted to make sure the projects were meaningful and rigorous. “The idea here isn’t to skate. The board needs to feel each project is worthwhile,” Oates said. “(The board) doesn’t want it to be overbearing, either.” Tooker said the main question is “should the paper be tied to the project?” He said he thinks the answer is “no.” The research paper requirement was crafted into the senior project at a time when there was no four-year English graduation requirement, he said. Tooker said he feels the board’s main concern is maintaining the community link. “(The board) values the community link,” Tooker said. “They really value putting out students in front of the community to articulate themselves.” Within the next few weeks Tooker said he will meet with the senior-project coordinators and talk about ways to bring a clarity and focus to the senior experience.