Saturday, May 2, 2015

Senior Project or Senior Nightmare?

I have been hearing stories about Senior Project, and some of them are really bad. Not having a child or grandchild in high school, it is all new to me and I’ve had to research it.  Senior Project has been a pet project of the Superintendent in Bossier Parish high schools for about four years now; it was a pilot program at Parkway the first year, then rolled out to every high school in the parish.  Caddo does not do Senior Project.
On the surface, to me at least, the goal seems worthy but the thing itself is over-complicated, very subjective, and in some cases, counter-productive. 
After twelve years of education, passing course work, years of standardized testing are all for naught if a senior does not pass Senior Project. 
If you are unfamiliar with Senior Project, here’s a quick primer:  it is taught alongside English IV, so while the student is trying to tease out the finer points of The Canterbury Tales and Hamlet, he is also writing an eight to ten page research paper on a topic related to his Senior Project.  That could be anything from carpentry to baking cakes.  The student is also working with a mentor on a product.  The guidelines say that the student must document twenty hours on the product and a minimum of five contacts with the mentor.  The student will compile all of this into a portfolio, along with at least ten required forms, and will make a PowerPoint presentation to go along with the speech he must give to an objective, outside panel.  The speech is supposed to be from eight to ten minutes.
This is where it gets subjective.  Apparently at some schools a student can speak four to six minutes while at others the student must speak eight minutes.  At another, ten minutes.  The product requirements vary, too, from school to school.  If baking is your topic, apparently one school requires three different samples for the judges to evaluate while at other schools a simple cake is fine.
Bottom line – it’s very subjective and very stressful for the student.
Now, let’s deal with a hypothetical. What if a student passes all of his classes, including the literature portion of English IV, and a teacher arbitrarily decides that they are lying about the work they have done on Project? Suppose that student has documentation and assurances from the mentor that this work was done according to the guidelines.  Suppose the teacher has accepted all the forms and documents all semester long, and then at the end of the process the speech isn’t quite long enough or the product board isn’t detailed enough. Is it fair that the student cannot graduate?
I’m aware of at least two instances this year where students were accused of lying about their project by a teacher without any real proof by the teacher in either case.  In one of those cases the parent threatened lawsuit and the student was allowed to pass. 
This is happening in our parish right now.  Right now there are kids who have ordered graduation invitations who will not be walking; these kids are considering new options – summer school, returning for another semester and graduating mid-term next year, or just going for the GED.
All because of Senior Project.
I have talked to lots of people over the last few days either personally or via Facebook (where I got a lot of interesting comments) as I’ve researched this.  I’m sure there are two sides to this, but I haven’t heard from one soul so far who supports it.
I won’t name schools – it’s a parish-wide problem so no need to single out individual schools – and from what I’ve heard, the teachers are not fans of Senior Project either for the most part.  But, what I’ve heard is this:
Each school supposedly has a Senior Project committee.  This committee secures the judges for the final panel.  The judges are supposed to be professionals in the community qualified to assess a portfolio and a speech.  At one school this year the committee charged parents of seniors to find judges.  I wonder what guaranteed that these judges were qualified or even literate.  I was told that some judges in those presentations realized that a student might be short on time so they drew them out with questions, thus helping the student make the time limit while other panels did not and students fell short. 
Is that fair?
In another case, I’ve heard that a kid was penalized for not taking enough pictures of his product; he had elected to do auto-body repair and found a mentor in an illegal chop shop.  He didn’t realize it was illegal, of course, but when a kid has to have a mentor, and there is maybe no attentive parent to guide him, this sort of thing is going to happen.  A student cannot use a family member as a mentor.
Is that fair?
In yet another case, a student did cooking for her Senior Project.  In order to make the required food for the judges to demonstrate her product, she used her family’s food stamp money. 
Is that fair?
Another student’s project got docked an entire letter grade because his speech didn’t open with an attention getting “hook” before he introduced himself to the judges.
That’s ridiculous.
One student had such a severe panic attack before her presentation that her nose started to bleed profusely and 911 had to be called.
Is this the kind of stress we want to subject kids to?  Is it necessary?
One student was called a liar by the teacher who just didn’t believe the student had done the project, despite guarantees by the mentor and plenty of documentation along the way.  That student will not be graduating this year. 
I’ve heard that some students actually do lie about their Project; they may lie about a step-parent being a mentor, or an aunt; they may lie about working with a certain mentor (what teacher has time to follow up on 35 mentors?).  Some students feel such stress and are so overwhelmed by the whole process, they feel this is their only option.
There is an appeals process for those kids, but it is practically never successful.  In the wide majority of cases it seems that the principal backs up the teacher and the superintendent backs up the principal.  The appeal process is intimidating and stressful for the student who might be hesitant to call out a teacher like that.
I’d like to know how many seniors won’t be graduating this year due strictly to Senior Project.  Someone left me a comment on Facebook that suggested this is just a vehicle to parade our kids out before the community and media. It doesn’t seem to serve the same educational purpose that a full course of English IV would.  I have real concerns that our students aren’t reaching college truly prepared because Senior Project consumed their entire English IV semester.

I hear rumors that the parish is considering modifications to Senior Project for next year but that does nothing for the seniors this year who will be sitting on the sidelines as their friends walk across the stage to receive their diploma.


  1. I am so glad I don't have to attend school anymore. Especially Bossier schools.

  2. Jim,
    Whatever happened to the old way to teach a person to be a productive person to society? Under the old way we won wars, cured diseases, harnessed the atom, put a man on the moon.... For the past forty or fifty years new techniques have been introduced to the education system. Some were introduced because of the advancement of technology, and that is understood, but the concept of reading, writing, and arithmetic are no longer any good and being replaced with concepts that are beyond comprehension.
    In some cases education has been replaced with "entertaining the student in the classroom" to prevent boredom. Where was that concept when I was a kid? Hell, I was bored to tears about 75 percent of the time, but the teachers were preparing us for the work force which in reality is usually a boring place. The student was being educated so that he/she would become a productive member of society, contributing in his/her way and not to be an audience member while his/her boss performed a hand puppet show so that they wouldn't be bored earning money for their company which in-turn paid them for making that money.
    The concept of Common Core, and evidently Senior Project is to indoctrinate instead of educate. It's train verses educate, and there is a difference.
    Some people today think they are smarter than the people in the past because of technology, but in order to use that technology the person has to be trained and doesn't know any of the concepts that developed the technology.
    It's like training an animal to perform a trick or a task, but that animal will never know the concept of what's being performed.
    It seems that in many cases students are being taught to perform tasks and not given the education to understand the concepts.

  3. So glad someone is finally taking a look at this! As a parent, I really resent that it takes so much time out of the English class; it should always have been done in a business class or as an elective. My daughter got through it but she is struggling in college now because they didn't read but three things in her high school English class and the paper she did on nursing was the only paper she wrote her senior year. Sad.

  4. Does one honestly think that a non-connected person would get satisfaction by complaining about a connected person in Bossier, especially in the school system? D.C. Machen isn't about to go against certain school board employees because that would make for a contentious time at the next family reunion.

  5. Anonymous at 7:51 is right. I was very prepared for my freshman year at La Tech except for English. The first week of class I was assigned a critical analysis. The last time I had written any type of literary analysis was in English 3 in the fall of my Junior year. My brother who graduated before Senior project wrote many essays on literature and a literary research paper in English IV. At the time, I thought that I was lucky not to have to write about Shakespeare and just do my sr. project paper on fashion design. I was wrong. I was very unprepared.

  6. I can't believe a teacher is allowed to call a kid a liar based on nothing. If you're going to make the kids go out on their own to find mentors, and you're going to encourage the community to help in this boneheaded project idea, then you're not going to believe or trust the mentor? What's the purpose of a mentor, then, if we aren't going to believe them? Stupid.

  7. Looking at this post compared to many on this blog, and the results of our local elections and what the people allow to go on in Bossier Parish proves we are getting the type of government and schools we deserve. I'm surprised I haven't seen the usual "Well, we're better than Shreveport/Caddo, or if you don't like it move...!" but in this case are we better than Caddo? Evidently not. We're sending our students to face college totally ill-prepared when it looks like Caddo is sending there students to college knowing how to right research papers while D.C. and the rest of the Bossier Parish school system are sending our students, the ones they don't accuse of lying at least, off to college knowing how to bake a cake!

  8. I graduated from a bossier parish school and we had senior project. I know for a fact that some of the people in my class lied about their project. Some of them got caught stealing pictures off the internet of their mentor and the whole project was made up. Even when they got caught they didn't get in trouble and they still graduated. I know another guy who got his research paper from a guy that graduated the year before and all he did was change up some stuff. the whole thing was a big joke. The only ones that are stressed out about it are probaly the ones who really did it. If a teahcer called me a liar and I did all the work i'd be getting me a lawyer and fast.

  9. I graduated school in 2012. I remember doing Senior Project. I believe we were the first class at my school to do it. A lot of it is subjective. I remember failing my 8 page paper because I didn't set the spacing correctly in between each line. In other words, I failed because the lines in between the sentences were either too narrow or too wide. Either way, I failed that portion even though the teacher said that my line spacing was just fine. My paper was actually really good. I didn't have any typos and all of my research was original (not plagiarized). But it didn't matter. It all came down to whether or not I had my lines spaced correctly, which was the most important determining factor in my grade, they said. My mentor was a local meteorologist who helped me learn about meteorology and broadcasting. My final product was a video of me doing a weather broadcast. My paper was about climate change.

    Senior Project was first started under Ken Kruithoff.

  10. Someone should call Sonja Bailes and find out how many kids actually fail senior project each semester. Bet they won't tell you.

  11. As a parent of a Benton senior, (yes, I'll name schools), I'm sick by this. My daughter made it through senior project but it was the most stressful thing ever. She's upset because one of her friends won't graduate because the teacher called her friend's project a lie. That student had a great project helping the homeless and animals; there was a lot of volunteer work involved and many hours invested only to be called a liar by the teacher. What kind of people are we putting in classrooms now? Suddenly home-school looks like a good option.

  12. I heard that this semester alone 17 seniors aren't walking purely because of senior project. SEVENTEEN!

  13. From my understanding the number was in the low twenty's last semester. Let's say it was twenty, that's 37 students who won't walk because senior projects that are arbitrarily at best. What if some of these students have contracts with the military? They are to ship on a particular day and they have a guaranteed career field waiting for them?
    Once that person is unable to enter on the particular date, that contract is most like is void and the job goes to someone else. Someone who has done everything thing required to graduate will not be able to graduate because someone didn't like the way a paper was signed or aligned or didn't believe (without any proof) that the senior project wasn't done?
    It's the same if a student has been accepted to a college for which they applied.
    Screwed, blued, and tattooed because of because of one person's arbitrary decision.
    What a shame!

  14. This is ridiculous - I can't believe parents are putting up with this. There's got to be more to this.If this was as bad as all that, parents would be yelling and screaming. Where are they?

  15. How many times have you been down visiting your local school to see what's going on? How many times have you been to a school board meeting to see what's going on in the system? If you do, you're probably one of the 0.001 percent of the parents who do. That's the problem. No one is holding the schools, the school administrators, or their school board representatives accountable.

  16. I don't have a dog in this hunt, but that's not particularly true. I am a tax payer and to think that the money spent on a child getting his/her education is going to be wasted because he/she won't graduate after doing all the work required, but failed because someone who isn't in the school system can give a project a low mark? And then in order for the student to "complete" his/her education and get a diploma more money has to be spent for the student to come back next year or go get a GED? That make a lot of friggin' sense, and the expense should come out of old D.C.'s $50k annual INCREASE!!! And that should go for any principal who goes along with this hair brain scheme! Mitch! Instead of flying around with the Blue Angels, how about being looking out for students interests, and the interest of taxpayers?

  17. @ Anon 8:25 - you can rest assured that parents are scared to speak out because of repercussions. If you challenge a "Chosen One" or go against "The Board" you will be persecuted, your children will be persecuted, and your children's children will be persecuted. I've personally talked to several parents who are outraged but are scared to say anything because their child might get the same treatment as all these kids lining up for summer school now. There are three high schools in this parish that delight on failing kids on senior project. There are two that help kids and mentor them. As the father of a freshman, I'm glad my child does not attend one of the three that fail kids for the sheer fun of it.

  18. Sounds like some parents need to call a lawyer. Get together. Bullying is a big trigger word in the schools right now but it sounds like the senior project teachers are the bullys and nobody is stopping it. Lawyer time.

  19. I've not read one complaint here that describes what the person personally did to address the situation in detail. A lot of " I heard". If you're not the one involved, you don't know the complete story. Not saying its a great situation but there are procedures to follow for complaints. Stop addressing people with accusations that you don't have the facts. Come on folks, do something positive to address the issues instead of complaining about things because of what you "heard".

    1. Really? Hunh! From some of the stories I've been reading it looks like first hand information from people involved instead of hearsay stories.
      As for addressing the problem in a positive manner, what do you suggest? Going to the school administration or seeing D.C. Machen? For your information that measure was taken and one of the families involved in one of these situations was shot down quickly, and when they thought they found a way out, good old D.C. nixed that too. So, once again, how can a positive resolution come about when the school administrations refuses to help? Just wondering. Any other ideas?

  20. I was a mentor three times in the past four years. And out of the three only two went to the trouble of completing the project. Both young ladies took the project seriously although begrudgingly. They both followed up with me, took pictures and since I was not allowed to hear the final presentation assume that went well also. The third young man showed up for one meeting and I never heard from him again. Since he waited until the week before his first assignment was due, I assume he did not complete the project.

  21. It negatively affects a high school's state grade when the grad rate drops. How could that fact be used as a negotiating point? It would take solidarity.

  22. Senior Project is a joke. My daughter did hers this year and barely passed. She had a panic attack during the year because of this project. Her project was learning to play the guitar. The teacher told her that she was not to play the guitar during the presentation, well all the judges made the remarks about her not playing the guitar. It is all very confusing and I hope they do away with it before my youngest is a senior in the next two years.

  23. Everything in Bossier is political. This is just one example, but how about the fact highly qualified educators who spend thousands of dollars, aspiring to move up to administrative positions will not get the opportunity. The very people who will advocate for issues like this regarding your children and what's best for them. But now the higher ups appoint you to a school based "academic coach". When positions open the principal is instructed to only chose from that pool of said coaches. What is happening to our school system. Where is the equality and justice we once had within our school system? Where is the transparency?

  24. Thank you for this. Our organization helped for the first year and it took so much of our time, especially when students would not show up for appointments. After that, we decided we would no longer participate but I still receive at least five phone calls from students looking for mentors at the start of every school year. This isn't a senior project, it is a parent/family/community project too and most simply do not have that time.

  25. I think senior project needs to be stopped because it is way too complicated in taking time out of our day. State should be put in place of senior project. Some people have learning disabilities and cannot do senior project. Senior Project needs to be stopped seriously it is too hard for alot of students. Each year at high school you will have students drop out of school because of how difficult and complicated senior project is. STOP SENIOR PROJECT THIS YEAR. SOMEBODY PLEASE PROTEST ON STOPPING SENIOR PROJECT EVERYWHERE.


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