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Senior Projects: District Must Vote Pro Choice

By Chris Hendrickson

On October 22, the Highline School District made the decision not to remove the culminating project as a graduation requirement for the 2014-2015 year, and has postponed making a decision that will affect upcoming years. The District decided this based on the data they collected from principals, and they removed the option to listen to a proposal of other options. The process to decide to keep the culminating project was terribly mismanaged, it did not consider the point of view of those affected, and

As of April, 2014, Washington Administrative Code 180-51-066 states that “[e]ach student… graduating before 2015 shall complete a culminating project for graduation.” This means that the District took six months to decide whether or not the class of 2015 would continue to be required to complete the project.

Transparency in the process of the decision to keep the Senior Project was non-existent; the hundreds of students, teachers, advisors, families, mentors, principals, and counselors were left in the dark throughout this process with no idea whether or not the project would be cancelled.

The District made the decision to keep the culminating project based on data they gathered from principals within HSD. This does not make sense, as advisors and students are the kind of people that know the most about how the projects work, and would be affected the greatest by the decision.

At the district level the senior project is inconsistently and unfairly implemented and they reinforce socioeconomic iniquity by favoring students with the material resources to produce the best projects. Highline School District should no longer mandate senior projects as a graduation requirement.

Because the senior project is no longer a state graduation requirement, it should not be a district graduation requirement. The reason the state decided to remove the project from the list of requirements was because of the lack of adequate funding and support for the project throughout the state. Some schools provided class time and scholarships for completion of the project, while others did not. This led to an inequality in motivation and support for students statewide, which gave the State Court grounds to rule the project unconstitutional.

The same difference in standards between districts is seen between schools within the HSD. Highline High School demands students to complete 20 hours of work outside of class for their project, while Mount Rainier High School only asks students to do 10 hours. At the upper extreme end, Raisbeck Aviation High School requires students to complete 40 hours of out-of-class work.

The way that senior projects are run is not only iniquitous in work required but also socioeconomically unjust. In general, schools do not provide financial support for the project, and students must construct the project from their own means. For students who can afford to construct an outstanding project, it is no trouble to blow the judges out of the water. On the other hand, students with less exhaustible financial resources must work much harder to be able to achieve the same success as their peers.

At Raisbeck Aviation High School in particular, students who create successful projects have opportunities to earn scholarships. These are awarded to students who have exceptional projects and who enter the Senior Project Showcase. Other schools that do not offer Senior Projects give students little to no actual incentive to complete the project.

The system of the senior project is broken. That is why the state removed it as a graduation requirement, and that is why Highline School District should follow suit. The project adds an undue burden to graduating seniors by requiring them to complete a project that for many students has little to no benefit. For students swamped with college applications and the other stresses of senior year, the culminating project becomes yet another hoop to jump through so they can walk at the end of the year.

This is not to detract from the students who do find meaning in their culminating projects. It is true that a good number of students are able to explore the type of work they someday hope to do for a living, but to assume that every single student finds such significance and enjoyment in their project is a downright fallacy.

There is only one solution to the dilemma of the senior project. District Administrators must remove the culminating project as a graduation requirement, which would allow schools to make the project optional for each student. This is the only way to level the playing field and end the inequality students face when attempting to reach the standards arbitrarily set by lawmakers.

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