Warwick public high schools were packed Thursday with anxious students preparing for their final presentations of their Senior Exhibition Projects that would decide if they could graduate. Shaky hands held index cards with notes. Students waited, hopes in the air, while panels discussed whether they would pass or fail. A few students left school with tears of joy and some of disappointment. “I passed!” could be heard throughout the halls as excited students told friends, parents or their favorite teacher that they were one step closer to a high school diploma.
Judges watched presentation after presentation with one choice: pass or fail. Most of the presentations were nothing less than impressive. Veronica Butler passed after presenting her military diet and exercise plan. Nick Peladeau presented and passed after showing some footage from the play “Fame Junior” he directed at Aldrich Junior High. Isiah Rios presented his postoperative treatment plan for patients of open-heart surgery and passed. Most kids said given the chance they wouldn’t do a senior project again, but they definitely saw the good of a senior project.
“I want to become a teacher, and this was a nice test to see if I was made to be a teacher or not,” Peladeau said. “It was nice to see my ideas come together on stage.”
Rios said, “I wouldn’t do it again. I have been stressed out all year for a 12-minute presentation, but I am glad it’s done.”
Butler said to this year’s juniors, “Get a good night’s sleep the night before.”
All three Graduation By Proficiency teachers, Dr. Fred Schweizer of Toll Gate, Chip McGair of Vets and Susan Cranston and their overseer, Denise Bilodeau, believe that senior project allows students the opportunity to take all of their learning throughout high school and utilize it in a professional fashion.
McGair said, “Senior Project has students take all the skills they have learned through high school and apply them in a safe, real world setting.”
The kids have a community that is rooting for them, that wants to see them succeed and helps them through this first “real world” experience.
“This project helps students to start thinking beyond high school,” Cranston said. “The students learn whether they like something or not and begin to look past their high school lives into the next step. They are being held accountable for what might be the first times in their lives. They get this chance to learn about themselves.”
Senior Project is reminiscent of a capstone or thesis project for a college graduation requirement. The project is an obvious first glimpse into the future for those students that plan on continuing to college, but GBP coordinators all assured that there are so many facets to the project that even students thinking of the military, moving into the job force or continuing with a tech school gain something.
Schweizer said, “No matter a student’s future plans, what senior project really helps all students with is their skills in self-advocacy. It teaches kids how to rely on themselves and you can see how proud they are of that when they leave their presentations smiling.”
There was emphasis on how good this project is for the students participating in the vocational school.
“Senior Project is directly linked because they are typically their final product is something they are doing in vo-tech, whether that is baking a cake or recreating an old engine. The students get to show off their talents and everything they have learned through vo-tech,” Cranston said.
This is not to say Senior Project doesn’t have its flaws. Many students find it overly stressful for their final year of high school on top of trying to figure out where their lives will go after graduation.
Steve Belanger and Nancy Kennedy, both teachers at Vets High School, said that the project is too “cookie cutter” for students who are all individuals and might not necessarily fit into a perfect mold that Senior Project presents. They agree that the project has its benefits, both believing Senior Project could have helped them when they were questioning career paths.
“Some are going to excel on it and others…well, it’s just going to be another stress for their final year,” Belanger said.
“There are just so many variables it just depends on the student,” Kennedy said.
Both suggested that in their senior year students should have the opportunity to take Senior Project as a class not unlike the college and SAT prep classes that are held now.
Next year, instead of the three pathways seniors could take, event planning, investigation or career exploration, there will only be two pathways that students can develop their senior projects: making a difference or searching for an identity.
Bilodeau, the technology applications assessment coordinator, said that every year she, the three GBP coordinators and the English teachers of the high schools meet to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Senior Project and how to “make our weaknesses strengths. She believes that with Senior Project now set in the Warwick Public Schools district there is still immense pressure surrounding the idea of senior projects.
Bilodeau said, “You know in elementary school now that at the end of all this schooling you’re going to have to do a senior project. It is sitting with them longer so they build up this fear. But when they look back after their presentation or after graduation they will be proud of what they accomplished and say, ‘I did that.’”
Not everyone passed throughout the system, but the overbearing majority of students did. Those students who failed will get another chance to present on Thursday, May 29.