Senior projects can be pivotal

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

Krystle Gordon was in second grade when she first considered becoming a teacher.

"I just started wondering what my teachers did when they weren't in the classroom," she said. "I always liked school, and I figured I might want to do it as a job."

As a senior at Carson High School in 2007, she took it a step further. For her senior project - a requirement in English classes - she focused on elementary education, teaching a first-grade music class and organizing a performance for their parents.

"I had never had experience in the classroom," she said. "That is what made me really realize that this is what I am meant to do."

The Monday after her Saturday graduation, she began elementary education classes at Western Nevada College.

This year, she started teaching her first class - fourth grade at Mark Twain Elementary School.

"I love it," she said. "I just love being able to share my knowledge in a way that is fun and exciting."

That relevance to the real world, said English teacher Cheryl Macy, was one of the motivating factors in making the project a requirement for all seniors.

"We wanted students to have a chance to explore a topic that was of interest to them, possibly one that is a potential career," Macy said. "It was also a way to help seniors feel engaged during their senior year."

The project began at Carson High School in 1997 for advanced-placement English students. It requires students to produce a research paper in an area of interest that they choose, create a related and detailed project, compile a portfolio detailing the various aspects of the project, then present their work in a speech to a panel of community judges.

In 2000, the project became a requirement for almost all English classes. Now, Macy said, it's something the students have come to expect.

"It's a rite of passage," she said. "It's a chance for them to transition into more of an adult role."

In addition to career exploration, projects often focus on personal growth.

"There's always a lot of students learning to play the guitar," Macy said.

Others take an altruistic approach. This year, projects include fundraisers for the Ronald McDonald House, the high school's culinary arts program and Sexual Assault Response Advocates, among many others.

"I've been very surprised at how varied they are," Macy said.

Gage Seaver dedicated 25 hours this year into researching a possible career in firefighting.

"It was cool because I got to go on ride-alongs to see what it was really like," he said. "It was great, and I learned a lot. I made me really want to pursue it as a career."

Despite the investment from the students, Macy said, the projects would not be a success without the participation from the community. The judges come in and review and evaluate the portfolios before sitting in on the presentations.

"If we didn't have that part, it wouldn't be worth doing the senior project," she said. "It brings a certain element of respect. The students amp up the quality of their work."

However, Lily Reedy, senior projects coordinator, is concerned by the lack of volunteers in recent years.

Ideally, Reedy said, each group - made up of three to five seniors - would present to panel of three or four judges. However, last year, some panels only had one or two judges, she said.

"I really wanted to bump up the number of volunteers a bit," Reedy said. "The kids have worked so hard on their projects, it's nice to have a full panel."

She said it's a rewarding experience.

"One of the exciting parts for me about this job is watching the excitement of the judges," she said.

Rose Barrow knows the satisfaction that comes from volunteering. She has served as judge every year since 2006, when she heard about it from a friend whose child was a senior.

"I was so impressed with the versatility and the efforts of some of these kids," she said. "I was really glad I went."

And it was natural for her to continue to volunteer.

"Why not?" she asked. "Every year, there's a whole new set of kids and a whole new set of projects. I have learned a great deal from some of them. It is my privilege."

You Can Help

Senior Project presentations will be May 17 and 18. About 60 more volunteers are need, particularly for the 7 a.m. session May 18.

To volunteer, contact Lily Reedy at, (775) 283-1640, or register at


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