Senior projects: a burden with benefits

Twin Falls High senior Melissa Boeddiker doesn’t know what she wants to do after high school, but her senior project has helped fine tune one possibility — become an illustrator or animation artist.

Senior project
Melissa Boeddiker, a senior at Twin Falls High, shows off a drawing to illustrate a book she created for her senior project.

Boeddiker is writing and illustrating a children’s fantasy book for her senior project. She plans to bind the book and read it to elementary students and get their feedback. Boeddiker said she enjoys the senior project, but it’s an added burden to a full class schedule for her senior year.

“In some ways, it keeps you from having a fun senior year,” she said. “I have friends [in other states] who didn’t have to do a senior project, and they seemed to have had a really fun senior year.”

Mandated by the State Board of Education, every senior in Idaho must complete a senior project before they can graduate. Each project must have two of three components: academic, career and community. The project must include at least 40 hours of work, an essay and a journal. Students work with a teacher who mentors them through the two-year process. Students eventually present the project outcomes to a board of advisors.

The Twin Falls School District has around 630 students that are required to complete a senior project before they can graduate in 2016.

While some students enjoy the experience some stress over the workload and timeline for completion.

“I see both perspectives,” said Carrie Ploss, a teacher and advisor at Twin Falls High. “When they first start, many look at it as a chore. But when they get into it, they see how much they’ve accomplished. The one thing I love about senior projects is that it’s based on their choice and personal interests.”

Camille Johnson, a teacher/advisor at Twin Falls High, said: “There is life outside of school. That’s why we encourage students to do something they’re really interested in.”

Megan Jensen is working on a computer game project. She is hiding “keys” on a website that will be presented to middle school students who will attempt to unlock the keys as they try and traverse through the site. She got the idea from a computer technology conference she attended last year.

Jensen said her favorite thing about the senior project is being challenged to think differently while helping younger students, but she doesn’t like that it’s required for graduation.

“Senior year is already stressful, and the deadline catches up to you really fast,” Jensen said.

Students who procrastinate put a strain on the process for completing the project and getting to graduation.

“Every year a teacher’s biggest frustration is apathy,” Johnson said. “It’s sad to me because they could really have fun with this. Last year we had some students who just didn’t want to do it.”

Students cannot graduate until their projects are finished. If they do not get them completed before graduation, they cannot walk in the ceremony. Since 2013, no senior in Twin Falls has failed to graduate solely because they failed to complete their project.

“Senior projects are to be started when students are juniors — if students follow the timeline provided for them, it should not be an extra burden,” said Twin Falls Superintendent Wiley Dobbs. “These projects give students important skills and an opportunity to explore their interests.  The vast majority of our students have told us the senior project was a valuable learning experience – after they have finished it.”

It may be difficult for students to see the educational value of their projects, especially at the beginning, but it’s there, Dobbs said.

“Students are empowered to study almost anything from auto body work to medicine,” he said. “They are required to write a research paper that gives them valuable experience utilizing their research and writing skills.”

Jensen said her project is teaching her about a possible career in computer science. Boeddiker wonders if she chose the project best suited to her future.

“We’re supposed to put 40 hours into our projects but I think I’ll double that,” Jensen said. “It teaches you to put yourself out there, to get out of your comfort zone. You put in a lot of work, so it teaches you to not be lazy and to do something good.”