Graduation projects add new dimension to learning in Pa.

November 27, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Shane Wollaston says that recycling 65 cans can earn you a dollar.

However, recycling a pound of pennies actually loses you 3 cents. That is, he said, unless there would be changes in the copper market.

Wollaston, a junior at Greencastle-Antrim High School, figured out the recycling returns with two teachers for inclusion into his graduation project, which will be presented in December for evaluation.

"I figure it's a possible career path that I have in the back of my mind," Wollaston said, explaining that his father works in scrap metal recycling.


Wollaston and classmates are taking a semester-long graduation project course that gives them the resources and guidance needed to complete the projects - a mandatory precursor to receiving a diploma.

The Pennsylvania Code requires "completion of a culminating project" but leaves the format up to each of its 501 public school districts. That format varies in Franklin County's districts.

"Our graduation project is called a junior project, and it goes on their transcripts," said Christine Henn, associate principal for curriculum and instruction in the Chambersburg Area School District.

In Chambersburg, the junior project is part of English classes and is graded as pass/fail. The grade is not factored into English performance or the Quality Point Average (QPA), but it is a component of graduation.

Students are asked to write a paper about a book or research topic. Teachers maintain a list of past topics that proved successful, Henn said.

The district, which also has a mandatory speech class, has required the research paper for at least 14 years, Henn said.

"Every year there's a few, not many, who do not complete it by the end of the year," Henn said. Those students must be tutored in the summer or repeat junior English, she said.

A team of faculty is looking at incorporating the research project into the educational pathways program that starts in ninth grade and develops a career portfolio.

"We're looking at turning that project more into career exploration," Henn said.

In the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District, the graduation project involves a research paper, presentation and teacher review.

"They actually decide their freshman and sophomore year what they want to do and plan for that," Waynesboro's Assistant Superintendent Gloria A. Pugliano said.

Each student is assigned an adviser and manual to guide the process.

"They have a lot of choice in this," Pugliano said. "They'll do some real hands-on projects sometimes."

Past projects that stand out in Pugliano's mind include choreography presented to the school board and full-length plays. Others develop PowerPoint presentations, put together science projects or partner with classmates to help with the town's annual Gala Auction to benefit the American Cancer Society.

"There have been some really wonderful things that kids have done. Some of these are absolutely phenomenal," Pugliano said. Project guidelines include a journal monitoring progress and a research paper in 11th-grade English class, she said.

"It's very time-intensive to do this," Pugliano said.

The student guide presented at the start of the Greencastle-Antrim High School class includes a series of project deadlines that must be met.

"You have to actually be working on your projects to get those deadlines," junior Alesha Brechbiel said. Brechbiel will present information about the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA pageant, which she described as a confidence-building experience for young women.

Greencastle-Antrim English teacher Brandon Solomon said students' presentations will be made before classmates and representatives of Hagerstown Business College, Hagerstown Community College, Penn State Mont Alto, him, and school deans and administrators.

"We will all grade them, so they get at least five evaluations," Solomon said.

Amanda Spidel, a junior in Solomon's class, admitted she might be nervous the day of her presentation, which focuses on a mission trip she took last summer to Nicaragua.

"I'm going to use a PowerPoint, and I'm going to interpret my pictures. (The trip) just taught me how grateful we should be," Spidel said.

Classmate Andrew Cordell chose to focus on international soccer and recently developed his introduction.

"I'm going to explain how it's different from American soccer and change the perception that it's a wimpy sport," Cordell said. He talked to his track coach about the coach's own project at Greencastle-Antrim High School, which has been requiring them since 1995 and started the class in 2005.

"We ask them to find something they're really interested in," Solomon said. "We give them everything they need to be successful with their project, with public speaking."

Projects past

Unusual past and current graduation project topics at Greencastle-Antrim High School:

· Rappelling

· Scrap metal recycling

· Psychedelic music of the 1960s and 1970s

· Installation of vehicle stereos

· Jeffrey Dahmer

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