MIHS changes elements of senior project requirement

The Mercer Island High School Culminating (senior) Project is up for a change — one that has next year’s seniors smiling.

On June 26, Culminating Project advisor Mike Radow and MIHS Principal John Harrison announced that seniors would no longer have to dedicate 80 hours of work to the project. Instead, the time commitment has been reduced to 50 hours.

Their decision, which was announced to the School Board last Thursday, is based on collective feedback from parents, students and faculty members. Members of the Culminating Project Committee recently surveyed all three groups, asking how they would improve the 2008 state graduation requirement.

One of the loudest concerns heard was that 80 hours of work was an excessive time commitment for students. Although some seniors dedicated more than 100 hours to the project, many said they struggled to meet the 80-hour requirement.

“Why are we doing this to our kids? We’re throwing too much on them. Eighty hours is killing them,” MIHS parent Nancy Black said at a Culminating Project meeting held in April.

After much thought about the matter, Radow and Harrison agreed that 50 hours was more appropriate.

“This seemed to be the middle ground. We’re still meeting our goal of substantial [work], but the time commitment is less,” Radow said during the School Board meeting, adding that most MIHS teachers were in favor of around 50 hours.

There is no state requirement for the amount of time that a student must dedicate to the Culminating Project. Such terms are determined by individual school districts. The 80-hour time commitment met by last year’s seniors was set by the Culminating Project Committee.

As of this fall, the Class of 2009 will have to log in only 50 hours of work, eliciting a sigh of relief from many — if not all of — next year’s seniors.

“I think [reducing the hours] is so helpful. That’s going to be really nice next year,” said soon-to-be senior James Gaffney, who has already begun work on his project. “Students could do 80 hours. The problem was, they piled this on top of college applications, graduation and a bunch of other stuff.”

Other changes will also be made to the project.

The committee has decided to abandon the project’s EdProps Web site, which encountered technical difficulties last year, and turn to the district’s Skylark system to provide updated Culminating Project information. Skylark is currently used by students, teachers and parents across the district for a number of academic and scheduling purposes. The software is easy to navigate and dependable, according to Superintendent Gary Plano.

“Using the tools in Skylark will be more efficient. It’s a stable company and is a student system used throughout the state,” he said.

The committee hopes that switching to Skylark will make the Culminating Project more accessible to parents, many of whom voiced concern about being “out of the loop” with their child’s deadlines and requirements. Administrators will also put more effort into communicating through monthly newsletters and the PTA listserv, Harrison said.

The final change is one of scheduling. The committee will uphold the option of two deadlines for the Culminating Project — December and June — however, rather than schedule the second group’s presentations in early May, as was done this year, they will be moved to March, during the statewide WASL week. This will give seniors a larger window between project presentations and the final June deadline to catch up on missing requirements. It will also provide a time for them to decompress before graduation, Harrison said.

All five members of the School Board applauded the committee’s changes and voiced their faith that “next year’s project will go much smoother.”

“We appreciate all the work you [Radow and Harrison] have done,” said School Board President Pat Braman. “The first year is always the hardest ­— we hope.”

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