Senior Project program grows|Schools seeking community’s help enhancing project

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Staff Writer

Beaufort County Schools is expanding a project that, for the first time, will require most seniors at all of the county’s public high schools to complete a Senior Project during their final year of high school.
The school system is calling for volunteers to help make this expansion possible, school officials said this week. The expansion begins with the start of the upcoming school year.
The purpose of the Senior Project is to give students opportunities to explore topics that are unfamiliar to them and develop new skills “beyond their comfort zone,” said Sarah Hodges, public information officer for Beaufort County Schools.
Beaufort County high-school seniors will be required to develop a Senior Project as part of their English IV or other senior English classes.
Unlike the Graduation Project originally proposed by the N.C. Board of Education, the local Senior Project is not a requirement for graduation but will be considered as part of a student’s final grade for English IV and other senior English classes, Hodges said.
A Senior Project has been in place in some, but not all, of the county’s high schools for the past three years.
The project has four components: A research paper exploring some aspect of a student’s chosen topic; a portfolio documenting the student’s work; a tangible or intangible product related to the student’s research paper; and an oral presentation before a panel of judges.
In previous years, students in Beaufort County and other school systems have chosen topics as wide-ranging as the history of embalming, new medical procedures, emergency medical training and learning karate, according to Christina Harris, curriculum coordinator for ninth through 12th grades at Beaufort County schools.
“The scope of the project is a broad as a student’s imagination,” she said. “In helping students develop a topic for their projects we often ask them, ‘What is your dream?’.”
Volunteers will be needed to help the county’s more than 480 high-school seniors in all phases of their Senior Projects, Beaufort County students will need dozens of people who are experts in many areas to help them with their explorations, she said.
“That’s why we want the community to know about it,” Harris said. “We are going to need mentors who will work directly with the students on their projects, community coordinators to help match students with experts in the community and judges for student presentations.”
Harris hopes that expansion of the Senior Project will not only help students expand their horizons but also will lead to closer cooperation between the community and the schools.
Senior Projects were originally intended by the N.C. Board of Education to be a requirement for graduation from public schools in the state, but implementation of the requirement was delayed by the board to give educators more time to study its costs and effectiveness.
Earlier this year, the N.C. General Assembly stepped into the discussion and passed legislation that halted the statewide implementation of a graduation project before July 1, 2011, and gave its Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee the authority to study the issue and make recommendations about its implementation to the state school board.
However, the legislation also gave local boards of education the authority to implement some form of the project for their students.
By requiring a project for senior English students, Beaufort County Schools will be able to work out any problems with the program before it becomes a requirement for graduation, Hodges said.
One of those problems may be addressed by the county Board of Education as early as September, according to Harris.
Current board policy requires volunteers working directly with students to undergo a criminal background check, but it would be prohibitively expensive to require all volunteers who work with seniors on their projects to receive a background check, Harris said.
“We don’t want that to be a problem,” she said. “And we are hoping for some flexibility to use people with these projects.”
For more information about the Senior Project or to volunteer, interested individuals, businesses and community groups may contact Harris at 946-6593 or by e-mail at