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Class of 2009 senior presentations begin

Rarely do classroom topics jump from discussing photography to preparing for a half marathon and then to creating a graphic novel. When it comes to a senior’s culminating project, the sky is the limit.

Last week, seniors from Mercer Island High School stepped to the front of the classroom to share the projects that they spent a year cultivating with fellow students and teachers.

As one of the 340 presentations that the class of 2009 gave, Henry Brockway spoke about his illustrated novel, a project which he admits is extremely time consuming and has taught him about his passion for writing and politics. It started with a few drawings of futuristic body armor, which led to battle ships, then the institutions behind them and finally the worlds and people which made those pieces possible.

“When you put all of these things together, it’s the beginning of an epic tale,” said Brockway. “I totally underestimated the immense task of writing a complete novel.”

Last spring was the first time that students were required to complete a culminating project as part of earning their diploma, and it showed. When the May deadline rolled around, many seniors at MIHS were not prepared to present, placing their graduation at risk. The process has since been revamped, and presentations were rescheduled for earlier in the spring term.

“It’s going much smoother,” said Mike Radow, the culminating project coordinator at MIHS.

As a graduation requirement for all Washington seniors, students pick a topic that they find interesting and complete a project revolving around it, finishing off with a 15-minute presentation to teachers, parents and peers. Each student is required to write a proposal, keep a log of the hours they spend on the project and write about what they learned. Seniors in the MIHS Class of 2008 needed to log in 80 hours toward their projects. But after hearing widespread complaints, the number of required hours was reduced to 50. Other than a few basic state standards, the presentation guidelines are largely left to districts to decide. There is no statewide standard for the number of hours devoted to the projects.

Radow said he felt students were under less stress to get enough hours in this year, compared to last spring. He said most students seem to feel that 50 hours is a worthwhile amount of time to spend on the project.

This year’s earlier presentations also gave students wiggle room if needed.

“March gives everybody breathing room,” said Radow. Last spring, presentations were done in late May, giving seniors only a short window to make them up. Following the March presentations, Radow said about 15 percent, or 50 kids, still need to schedule a presentation. Given the extra time this year, he is confident that everyone will finish.

“We’ve got plenty of time. The vast majority will present in time for graduation,” Radow said. Last spring, around 150 students faced graduation issues because of the culminating project, and 20 students had to do make-ups after the May deadline. There are approximately 340 seniors who will present this year. The class of 2008 included 375 students.

MIHS teacher JoAnn Hornsten, who leads a Bridges group, said she felt the difference between the spring ’08 presentations and this year’s was student confidence.

“I felt they were good last year, but I felt somehow these presentations were more polished,” said Hornsten. She attributes this to more in-classroom training and preparation by teachers. She said she felt everyone had a better idea of what was expected this time around, which helped students feel confident.

By moving the presentations to WASL week, MIHS was able to capitalize on a week which throws the student’s schedules into chaos. The school utilized the Bridges advisory period as the time for seniors to give their presentations, as well as a chance for younger students to see how to successfully complete the project.

Radow said in every classroom a senior presented to two Bridges groups and staff advisors. This way, the underclassmen saw between seven to 10 presentations over two days, in the hope that a project topic would provide inspiration or at least a starting point. For some, this means leaping into the project, even completing it during the summer. If interested in working on it over the summer, juniors must gain project approval prior to school being released this spring. Radow said some choose this option, especially if their project includes traveling or a big event which would not be possible during the regular school year.

Ultimately, Radow said he would like to see the project shift in students’ minds from a requirement to an opportunity to showcase a talent.

“Hopefully, the culture changes,” said Radow.

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