Seniors scramble to meet culminating project deadline

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

A handful of parents gathered at the Mercer Island School Board meeting last Thursday, eager to hear the latest news on the reported 150 seniors struggling to finish their culminating project by deadline. Speaking before the board, Mercer Island High School Principal John Harrison said that as of May 9, there were about 15 students in serious risk of not graduating.

As of May 12, the final deadline for seniors, this number was down to less than 10, according to project coordinator Mike Radow.

However, he emphasized that even this estimate could change over the coming weeks.

"Really, we won't know until June 6 [graduation day]," Radow said.

As for the 100-some students reportedly in jeopardy at the end of April, Harrison told the School Board on May 8 that they had either caught up on their projects or were working double-time to do so.

"Approximately 15 students have missed crucial deadlines and it's an issue of concern," Harrison said. "And 100 kids have been working really hard over the past weeks."

The students in jeopardy, the principal added, had not yet officially approved their project ideas — a requirement that somehow was slipped by. The main reason for this situation, Harrison said, was a lack in communication between students and teachers.

"It's a problem that you don't see these kids regularly to check up on their work. Communication has been an issue," he said.

Those MIHS seniors — whatever the number, if any at all — who fail to graduate on time can earn their diplomas over the summer, Radow added. Yet this will be their own financial responsibility.

"If kids don't walk, it's a cost to them — not the district — to take summer school and get through," Radow said.

Following the update delivered by Radow and Harrison, the School Board asked what was being done to help next year's seniors finish their culminating project and graduate on time.

Harrison said the committee was working on this question and had already developed a number of problem areas to focus on, from the re-organization of project deadlines to facilitating better teacher-student communication.

One proposal, particularly salient to the current graduation problem, was to reschedule the May 19 and 20 presentations a month earlier, during WASL testing in April. Finishing their culminating project earlier in the year, Radow said, would give faltering students more time to catch up and help ease the end-of-year stress that builds up in May.

The biggest concern, according to parents at the meeting, was the project's time commitment of 80 hours — a standard agreed on by the committee, not the state. Harrison acknowledged this concern, saying that "the scope of the project has been an issue," and that the committee would re-evaluate the 80-hour requirement.

"Our committee has had a lot of ideas," Radow said. "We have adapted elements, and we will continue to adapt [the project]."

The Class of 2008 culminating project presentations will begin at 8 a.m. at MIHS on May 19 and at 9:15 a.m. on May 20. The public is welcome to attend. Parking, however, is limited.

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