Rarely do high school students earn credit for their passions. Next year Wood River High School plans to require a Senior Project class for graduation that encourages students to pursue a project of interest over a trimester. In its fourth year as a pilot program, the class recently culminated with senior project presentations.
"I took this class because I thought it would be a creative way to explore a career choice," Jubal Brown said during his presentation.
From career interests to hobbies, the seniors gave presentations Monday, Dec. 6 on projects they completed over the first 12-week trimester to a panel of judges from the community.
Brown began the series of presentations with his project, the complete restoration of a 1973 Husqvarna 125 WR motorcycle.
Like Brown's decision to refurbish a motorcycle, the assignment encourages students to explore their passions rather than keep to a strict academic focus. This year the scope of the projects ranged from motorcycle restoration to painting a mural. The class teaches time management, research skills, personal growth and goal setting.
Principal Graham Hume terms the assignment "a learning stretch." The purpose is to "take learning they've had in the past and add to it," he said.
"It's a learning stretch for me because I have never completely taken (a motorcycle) apart and refurbished one," Brown explained.
During the trimester Brown transformed a rusty Husqvarna bike into a collector's dream. "I had some knowledge going in, but this really opened me eyes," he said.
He began by researching original advertisements, race reports and owner's manuals.
"They gave me an idea of what the motorcycle was supposed to look like," he said.
Then Brown set out to find parts for the bike. He researched part suppliers across the country and worked closely with Ken Heuring, owner of Beyond Repair of Ketchum, to restore the bike. Heuring served as Brown's mentor for the project. The project requires every student to work with a mentor.
"Students are asked to find a mentor in the community who is an expert in (the field) a student wants to learn about," Amy McGraw, the senior project teacher, explained.
The mentor assesses the student's understanding of the subject matter at the onset of the project and evaluates the project at the end of the trimester.
"We had to work together to work through some pretty tough problems," Brown said.
Brown repainted and rebuilt the entire bike. He said he spent 87 hours and 20 minutes on the project. The class requires a minimum of 25 hours.
"It was a labor of love," his father Rick Brown said. "He would be out in the garage until 2 in the morning."
Brown's passion for the project materialized in his presentation. He confidently explained the restoration process and fielded questions from the panel gathered to critique the presentation. The presentation also requires students to explain why they are prepared to graduate from high school.
The panel consists of parents, teachers, school board members and members of the community. The group evaluates the organization, content, delivery and ability to field questions. Although the panel evaluates the presentation, they do not grade the project. Instead, a student earns a grade for the class based on their assignments.
According to Hume, the senior project class is required at 30,000 schools across the U.S. Next year Wood River High will join the collection of high schools that encourage a student's personal development through an academic avenue.