A career jump-start
When they read Meredith Blake’s book one day, her classmates might not all like what’s between the covers.
Blake, a senior at Nevada Union High School, has been studying her classmates for two years, joining them at dances, football games, in cliquish circles in front of the main office, peeling out of the parking lot on the way to a weekend.
In more than 100 pages, Blake has scribbled and typed these observations, crafting the images into a fictional story of a 17-year-old vampire for her senior project.
In assembling the book, Blake has enlisted the help of her classmates in critiquing and tweaking details of the story. She keeps a stack of Post-It notes with plot suggestions and details scribbled on each of them.
Periodically, instructor Lynn McDaniel has turned an exacting eye to her student’s prose, offering suggestions and improvements, a somewhat painful process by Blake’s standards.
“My writing, for me, is very personal, so to share it with students was really hard,” said Blake, an introspective sort. “But if I can make a person think about what I wrote, then it’s good writing.”
Such is the modern-day senior project requirement for Nevada County’s high school seniors, of all stripes.
After following the same blueprint for much of the past decade, the senior project was tweaked this year. While the projects still require a multiple-page paper and a poster explaining the project, and the signature “stand and deliver” presentation in front of a judging panel is still a highlight, the projects now must reflect a career path, as opposed to simply exploring, say, skydiving or underwater basket weaving.
“It has to be a challenge to them, something they haven’t done before,” said McDaniel, an English and journalism instructor at Nevada Union who serves as the school’s projects coordinator.
In many cases, the projects are intensely personal. Bear River senior Jeffrey Dydiw, 17, plans to film a documentary about a friend with Down’s syndrome. Classmate Jared Boothe, 17, is tuning a Honda Civic, calling on Japanese importers to help replace the car’s commuter-friendly components with ones that eat pavement.
Boothe admits the project wouldn’t be possible without access to tools and expertise from the employees at the auto shop where he works.
NU senior Kristina Rose is planning a “Cycle For Sight” fund-raiser for Sierra Services for the Blind, hoping to raise $10,000.
Sierra Services for the Blind Executive Director Richard Crandall has high hopes for Rose, whose target represents roughly a quarter of all fund-raising done by the group in a year.
“It’s going to be quite a task for her, that’s for sure. If she gets out and hits the bricks, she just might do it.”
The Cycle For Sight is a 30-mile ride from the Omega rest stop on Highway 20 along the Pioneer Trail to Pioneer Park in Nevada City. A shorter, 13-mile route runs from the White Cloud campground to Pioneer Park. Rose’s job includes creating posters and an Internet presence for the event.
“She’s learning a tremendous amount about nonprofits, seniors, and the world we live in,” Crandall said.
In one particular case, Nevada Union senior Sara Jablow is turning the tables on McDaniel, a frequent mentor, and teaching her instructor how to knit.
Jablow approached McDaniel, who is also her yearbook instructor, only after abandoning plans to make a film, choreograph a dance and raise a horse.
McDaniel has learned enough from her teacher-pupil to make two blankets for her week-old twin grandchildren.
“She can teach without making me feel stupid,” McDaniel said.
Bear River senior Nicole MacDonald’s summer internship in public relations forced her to re-think her career path after realizing that that line of work wasn’t for her.
“As much as I hated it, I was happy I tried something like that,” she said.
And that’s partially the point, said Duwaine Ganskie, who coordinates senior projects for Bear River seniors.
To illustrate, Ganskie said students who aren’t good in math can choose careers that don’t have numbers. But they have to think about those careers while they still have the opportunity to try new things.
“Can you live without the thought of exploring career choices?” Ganskie asked. “At some point, you’re going to have to make a decision on what it’s going to be. That’s the way I look at (senior projects). Students have to seize the opportunities.”
Students are required to spend at least 20 hours completing the project, while many easily triple that output.
Graduation is impossible without an acceptable senior project, and it is possible to fail your senior year, even with an “A” average, if you fail the project.
Jablow, whose day is filled with advanced-placement classes and extra-curricular activities, hasn’t always been able to find time for it all.
“I think the (advanced placement) test is more important than the senior project,” she said.
But for struggling students, McDaniel said, a successful project can be a confidence-booster.
“The truth is, for many students, (the presentation) is the most joyful day for them,” she said.
MacDonald said marketing and advertising for a choral production at Bear River has taken so much time she almost couldn’t keep her part-time job.
“Working any more than one day a week is nearly impossible,” she said. Toni Ramos, who is directing “Alice in Wonderland” for Bear River later this month, said she’s had fun, but she’s looking forward to returning to a normal life.
“I can’t wait until the play is over,” she said. “Being able to see the sunlight after school is going to be awesome … and going home to watch ‘The Simpsons’ is going to be great.”
WANT TO HELP?
To serve as a panelist for the presentation of senior projects at Nevada Union or Bear River high school, call Duwaine Ganskie at 268-3700, ext. 4613, or Lynn McDaniel at 273-4431.
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