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.
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.