Seniors take their education into their own hands


Senior projects give students a unique opportunity



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PARTICIPANTS in the Senior Project program pose for a photo after presentations last week. Back row (l to r) are the seniors who completed the projects, Joshua Dixon-Snell, Kim Taylor, Heather Hooker, Kelsey Hannafin and Allison LaRoche, along with teacher Marcia LeMay, who was part of the panel viewing the presentations. Front row (l to r), junior Molly Perreault, advisor Joe Derrick and junior Nicole Dwyer. The two juniors were part of the panel as well and are considering doing projects next year. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
April 27, 2011
ALTON — High school is traditionally a structured education system, with the standard classes and electives available to everyone. It's not too often that a student gets to decide what he or she wants to study.

But for five seniors at Prospect Mountain High School, that was exactly what they got to do as part of the Senior Projects, which came to a close last week with a presentation before community members, school staff and fellow students.

The three-member panels were assembled to critique each student's presentation following their research and work throughout the school year.

While the number of senior projects is down this year, advisor Joe Derrick was quick to point out that the quality was definitely up.

"The quality is definitely up," he said. "We got a little bit more rigorous standards, we're setting the bar a little higher.

"We're hoping to develop some momentum with getting quality projects in," he continued. "We're getting them to show the juniors and inspire them to do better."

Senior projects are an option (each student gets a credit for his or her project) where students can choose a subject area of interest and then carry out the project following a specific set of guidelines laid out at the beginning of the year.

This year, the projects ranged from dentistry to dance, from music teaching to medicine and peer counseling. Each of the five participants spent a great deal of time working on their project and the results were showed off last week.

Kelsey Hannafin combined her passion for dance, something she gave up prior to starting high school but picked up again this year, with her love of her friends and her respect for the military and working with Ashley Dowling at Alton Dance Academy, put together a couple of dance pieces. The works were performed in front of slide shows, one featuring people that she knows serving in the military and another highlighting her friends and the memories they've made over their time at Prospect Mountain.

Josh Dixon-Snell used his project as a way to explore a possible major in college. He sat in on Freshman Seminar, a mandatory class for freshmen at Prospect Mountain, and set the groundwork for a peer counseling system, something he sees as a much-needed addition to Prospect Mountain High School. He explored the data surrounding peer counseling and worked with the freshmen throughout the year to hear their stories and see how they reacted to the situations they were in. He noted that he was interested in a major in Psychology in college and saw this as a chance to delve deeper into that world.

Junior Molly Perreault, who was one of the peers on the panel, was particularly intrigued by Dixon-Snell's presentation and hoped to pick up his torch (or at least part of it) for her senior project next year.

Heather Hooker worked with several area music teachers, including the Prospect teachers and the Alton Central and Barnstead Elementary teachers to study music teaching. She arranged a recital with seven individual performances, which drew a crowd of more than 50 people. She also created a recorded work that synchronized herself playing seven different instruments into one piece of music.

Kimberly Taylor worked with Dr. MacVitti at Frisbie Memorial Hospital in researching new medical technologies, including Benechill and Vscan. She even got the chance to accompany Dr. MacVitti in surgery and showed a strong ability to understand complicated procedures and medical technology

Allison LaRoche worked with Dr. Reynolds to study dentistry and did numerous interviews with patients and doctors and got a lot of hands-on experience in the dentist's office as she explores the possibility of a career in dentistry moving forward. She sought to understand what dentistry is and how it can affect people's lives.

Derrick noted that all of the participants passed their projects and hoped that juniors coming up would look at the chance to do such a project as a good challenge.

"We're trying to get those passionate students," Derrick said.

He also noted that the senior project program is still a work in progress and there are numerous options on the table.

Currently the students can meet with Derrick during his free period, but he noted that there is a possibility of making it a class with more set meeting times. There's also the possibility of working the new community service requirement into the project in the future.

Whatever the case may be, Derrick said the projects are something the kids should be proud of.

"It's all them," he said. "It's something to be proud of. For these kids to have actively participated in their own education is a valuable experience.

"To set their own deadlines and responsibilities, that's a great lesson for them," Derrick continued.

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