Photo: Steve Thurston
Seniors at Wakefield High School completed a rite of passage last week when they wrapped up their year-long senior projects. They had already written their research papers and presented them to a panel of judges, so last week was victory lap: a display of their materials for friends and the community in the school’s cafeteria.
On hand to see the seniors was school Superintendent Patrick Murphy, school board members, members of the community and students.
This is the 14th year that Wakefield has assigned the projects, now required for graduation. Some students transfer from Wakefield to one of the adult education centers to get a diploma, if they do not wish to do the project.
Each project includes an eight- to 10-page research paper; a 20-minute presentation to a panel of one current teacher, one retired teacher, one student, and one expert in the field; 150 hours of documented work; and quite a bit of complaining followed by a true sense of accomplishment and pride, teachers said.
The students who receive “outstanding” or “pass-plus” may sign up for a space in the cafeteria on a first-come, first-served basis. The first 70 or so displayed their findings on Thursday, June 7. The research topics covered gay and lesbian issues, animal care, baseball, skiing, photography, crime scene investigation, studying at the Levine School of Music, the stock market, volunteering, architecture, writing, and many other topics.
Senior Project Coordinator Lisa Labella said, “This is the one thing they do that totally levels the playing field.” All the seniors research a topic of their choosing. They have plenty of time to get the job done, and there is no timed testing. Stronger students and weaker ones can perform at the same level, she said.
[To see photos and interviews of the students, please click on our slideshow.]
Retired senior project coordinator Connie Bernhardt agreed that the program “levels the playing field.”
Bernhardt, who sits on the panel of judges, asked rhetorically if a 20-minute presentation to a panel of experts was too much to ask of seniors.
“They do it. That’s across the board, all levels,” she said, answering her own question. They learn how to ask for help, and that “quitting isn’t an option.”
The students are responsible for all parts of the project, Labella said. They develop a research question and five objectives, outline methods, and make a timeline for completion. Planning and hitting the goals is the most important part.