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Seniors behind on grad. project

As of this week, nearly 150 Mercer Island High School seniors are not meeting deadline for their senior culminating project. If they do not get their work completed by May 19, it could be a “cozy graduation” for the class of 2008 — sans one-third of the students.

Yet project advisor Mike Radow is determined to get the students through, and so are his fellow culminating project committee members.

“This week is a little premature to tell. If they do the work, we want them to graduate,” he said. “There are a lot of deadlines these kids have or haven’t met. And we need to ask ourselves, do we count those projects that are being turned in late?”

On April 24, the committee met to discuss — among a list of things — the worrying number of students behind on their culminating project, a new state requirement for high school graduation.

Guinea pigs for the year-long project, the class of 2008 carries the stress of completing 80 hours of work, an online logbook, reflective essay, project portfolio and schoolwide presentation. If not, they don’t graduate. Simple as that.

To be sure, the students have the sympathy of teachers, administrators and parents. Why? Because these parties are guinea pigs in the culminating maze as well.

“We’re all in the learning process here. It’s absolutely new. It’s hard to put this into scope,” one parent at the meeting said.

Other committee members — a cross-section of administrators, parents and faculty — agreed.

“Part of it comes down to the growing pains of the project — the EdProp [online network] broke down and we haven’t stuck to deadlines,” said MIHS English teacher Creighton Laughary. “Knowing what we know now, we have to do things differently [next year].”

Yet the immediate concern was not so much next year’s students as the 150 seniors potentially falling short of a diploma this year.

“How can we help this group of kids in jeopardy? What can we do to see them all graduate?” asked committee member Deborah Boeck.

The answer? Adamant, last-minute warnings.

Just last week, MIHS principal John Harrison delivered such a warning to the senior class, stressing the seriousness of the situation many are in.

“John made it pretty clear that if they don’t do the work, they won’t graduate,” said MIHS teacher Patricia Malatesta.

Meanwhile, seniors and teachers are cramming as much work in the waning two-week window period as they can.

May 12 is deadline day. By that time, unless a student has a pre-approved extension, all seniors must submit their reflective project essay and online log.

And the teachers, who are just as stressed as the seniors, have their own deadline. Each must finish grading his or her students’ work by May 19.

The project presentations are scheduled for May 19 and 20. The two-day culminating fair, which is open to the entire high school, parents and members of the community, is a circus to organize in itself.

Although this is the school’s second-time around in presentation’s (63 December deadline students presented their work in January) this month’s group, four times the size, is an entirely new challenge. Therefore, much of last Thursday’s meeting was devoted to solving logistical and technical issues; how to direct the flow of students between classrooms, the amount of time each senior has to set up his or her presentation, and finding enough parking space for visiting parents and members of the community.

“It should be an event that ties us in with the community -- Rotary club members, parents and mentors. Our community is wonderful to the school district and we need to recognize that,” said Malatesta.

The stress of potential non-graduates aside, the committee is looking forward to a stimulating and festive two days of presentations. After all, when Mercer Island students do complete a project, they seldom fail to impress.

The Reporter will follow up on the culminating project situation later this month.

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