Columbia County senior English students have to show what they know, and some schools are reaping the benefits.
"From volleyball courts to sprinkling systems - I just love it," Greenbrier Principal Gloria Hamilton said. "We're just having a wonderful time with this. This is the greatest thing there ever was. From our tech prep to our advanced placement kids, I'm just so impressed."
This is the pilot year the Columbia County Board of Education is requiring senior English students - from special education students to advanced placement students - to do a senior research project.
"This is a good way for students to showcase what they are learning in school," said Carol Shrout, a senior project coordinator at Greenbrier, "how to research, organize and present a paper."
Students are allowed to select a research topic thatmust be approved by a senior project coordinator. Students then work with mentors and a faculty adviser to get practical experience on their topic or to get help in making a product.
"They have really done some interesting things: one is writing a children's book, one student is restoring a BMW, there is a girl making a wedding cake from scratch and another who is making her own prom dress," Ms. Shrout said.
At Lakeside High School, one student is redesigning the school's Web site,Principal Victor Lee said.
The students also have to prepare a portfolio that includes their work during the year, the senior project paper and the results of their research.
Finally, the students have to present their work. This year, each school is handling the presentation portion differently - some schools are requiring students to present to their class, while others are using faculty panels to judge the projects. Next year, when the senior project concept is fully implemented, the students will be required to make a presentation before a community panel.
The research paper counts as 25 percent of the student's second-quarter English grade; the product the student produces, or the field work (15 hours outside the classroom) and the portfolio counts as 25 percent of the third- quarter grade and the presentation counts as 25 percent of the fourth-quarter grade.
Carly Jackson has seen parts of her school that no student has seen before. She has become intimately familiar with the closet that houses the school's water pressure reduction valve - the place where an eight-inch pipe goes down to a six-inch pipe that feeds the school's plumbing.
Her senior project is on water conservation. Her product was a set of blue prints for a sprinkler system for the Greenbrier High campus. Of course the school board will have to approve them, then there's the issue of paying for it, but Carly's plans will be there when they are ready.
"I didn't realize how huge the school was and all the area that needs to be watered," she said, kicking the dusty, grass-barren ground around the school building.
Surprisingly, the project has nothing to do with her future plans. She ultimately wants to study chemical engineering.
But she hopes she will have left a legacy at the school that will one day beautify the campus.
"I'll probably never see another sprinkler system again," Carly said. "But I really hope that at some point they can install it and some of the thought will have come from me."
Clint Shearouse has brought his favorite sport to school. His senior project is on the benefits of recreation, and his product is a volleyball court that he installed at the school.
"We play every night at Riverside, so I wanted to bring one here," he said.
Clint used surveying equipment to map out the 40-foot-by-70-foot area. Lowe's gave him a discount on materials that his parents supplied for the project.
"I hope they will take care of it after I'm gone," Clint said.
Though high schools have required their senior English students to do research papers, this is the first time such an in-depth project has been required. Evans High School is the only school that has had something similar to it.
"This is the first year we've implemented the portfolio," said Mary Stout, English department chairperson at Evans. "But our kids have been used to doing this. There are going to be some good ones this year. In my class, I had a girl do a model of a house and do the blue prints by hand, I have another student who has illustrated a children's book, we've had kids do canned food drives and children's book drives. I've had a girl who taught a class on eating disorders and I've had students do projects in interior decorating where I've had to go to their house to judge their product."
While there have been national discussions about the value of the senior year, the senior project requires the student to produce, Ms. Stout said.
"I think it keeps them focused for a much longer period of time," she said. "Teen-agers are going to complain, but overall they've done a very good job with it."
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