On Monday night 114 of the 664 seniors in the Warwick Public Schools took advantage of the opportunity to complete early presentations for their Graduation by Proficiency (GBP) senior projects.
According to Denise Bilodeau, who provides a GBP update to the School Committee at the beginning of each of their monthly meetings, 13 of the 114 seniors that successfully completed early project presentations passed with distinction and 29 with honorable mention.
At Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, GBP coordinator Chip McGair said 21 students completed early presentations. He said he’s observed a noticeable improvement in the projects this year.
“We got to a high point [with senior project], then we had a law passed last [school] year that affected us right away,” McGair said, referencing an amendment to state law requiring all mentors working with school students to undergo local and national background checks, which the school department couldn’t afford at the time, causing Warwick to eliminate the mentor aspect of the senior project as of Oct. 1, 2012. “Losing the mentoring resulted in varied quality of projects because students were all at different points with their projects; there was less consistency.”
Having resolved the mentor issue for this school year, allowing students to once again work with a mentor, McGair said a new addition to the senior project has also contributed to its improvement.
“Students now have three pathways [choices] they can choose with how to approach their project – career exploration, event planning or investigation. It’s no longer one size fits all,” he said. “We’re starting to see impressive projects as a result of it.”
McGair said the pathways are a new addition this year, which is being evaluated and “based on what we learn this year, we’ll offer adjustments for next year.”
McGair said students have embraced the new addition and have used it to create some impressive projects.
“We had two students teach lessons, where they had to plan a lesson and then teach it. Casey Bennett taught a pre-school lesson and Aaron Austin taught a lesson working in the Vets History Department,” he said.
As an example of an investigation project, McGair said John Nordin wrote a legal brief, where he had to research what went into a legal brief and learn how to construct one. He listed two more students who used senior project to develop and hold fundraiser events; Amber Beech organized an event to raise money for cancer research and Paige McCoy did the same to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
“We also had a student, Ray Rossiti, who worked at Roger Williams Zoo creating enrichment programs for the animals to help keep their minds sharp by forcing them to work to get their food,” he said, citing yet another example of a unique project.
Ricki Beaufort was one of the 13 seniors to pass with distinction. She plays soccer, loves sports and wants to become an athletic trainer, so she decided to focus her project on the nutrition and dietary needs of an athlete.
Beaufort said she learned that while athletes need protein for energy, fats also provide energy and carbohydrates are important.
“I learned how much athletes should eat, which depends on the athlete’s metabolism,” she said. “I created a two-week meal plan and workout schedule to follow.”
Beaufort said Sheila Sanzi, a physical education teacher at Vets, served as her mentor and helped her develop a meal plan that included breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, as well as several workouts, including cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, muscular endurance, body composition and muscular strength, and set goals for each one.
“The learning stretch was achieved because I know what and how much of what [food] to put into my body, as well as how to work out and treat my body,” she said. “The experience has been helpful because I can use what I learned in soccer and other sports that I play. I want to play college soccer and this will help me.”
When asked by judges if she noticed a difference in her body and how she feels after implementing the meal plan and workout schedule, Beaufort replied, “I noticed I was feeling better in general when I changed my diet and started working out.”
Beaufort said she plans to study kinesiology and will play soccer at Community College of Rhode Island next year.
John Nordin’s project was an investigation topic. It was entitled “How Lawyers Present an Effective Court Case Position,” in which he analyzed six case briefs and made arguments on each one.
“This is related to what I want to pursue in the future, which is being a law advocate in the family court system,” he said.
Nordin said he looked at the requirements of what it takes to become a lawyer, including the seven years of schooling, courses and passing the BAR exam, as well as the challenges and obstacles lawyers go through to present successful positions, such as depression and burnout.
“Academics are the backbone,” he said, adding that lawyers are more necessary than people realize. “You can save a live, put criminals behind bars or put them out on the street.”
Nordin said the project required extensive research, which he conducted using the Internet, books and interviewing Joseph McGurrin, a former Vets graduate who is currently in law school.
“He taught me and gave me experience on a lawyer’s work to present successful positions,” Nordin said. “I asked him how he got interested in law and what skills are needed because I was trying to compare his path to becoming a lawyer to match up with mine.”
Nordin said he examined six theoretical college-level case briefs and drafted an informal memorandum. He said he achieved the learning stretch because he learned how to type an effective and correct case brief and internal memo, as well as the meanings of the rules and regulations in law.
“I also learned the basics of college-level courses because the case briefs I analyzed were all at the college level,” he added. “The internal memo was challenging, but [the project] helped me decide where I want to go to college. This was definitely my favorite project.”
Nordin said he was halfway through his junior year when he decided he wanted to pursue this path. The realization that he was strong in social studies courses combined with an interest in law and the desire to help families and his community are what led Nordin to his decision.
Nordin said he was relieved to complete his senior project presentation early.
“Your best choice is to do that so you can be sure to get it out of the way early,” he said, before providing some advice for future seniors. “Choose something that is truly interesting to you and pick a good interviewee or mentor, someone you can rely on.”
Nordin said McGurrin was a great help to him and he even offered to continue working with Nordin beyond the senior project.
Nordin was one of 29 students to pass with honorable mention.
Vets Principal Gerry Habershaw, who served as one of the judges for Beaufort and Nordin, said the early senior project presentations are good because it allows students to get the project out of the way.
“With the constant changing of graduation requirements, we’ve created high-anxiety students; they want to get it out of the way and move on to focusing on the rest of their senior year,” he said. “The more they can get off their plate, the less pressure they’ll feel.”
Leah Hazelwood, a teacher assistant at Vets, and School Committee member Karen Bachus served as the other two judges along with Habershaw.
“It’s difficult without having a lot of contact with a mentor. Students have to dig deeper to get a good feel for what they’re going into,” Hazelwood said of the investigative pathway project. “There’s a lot more research involved, which prepares them well for college.”
Bachus said it’s clear the students put a lot of work into their projects.
“I really enjoy meeting the kids and seeing what they’re interested in,” she said. “I wish we did this when I was in high school.”
Habershaw said the senior class has been very good with senior project, adding that a high number of students have gotten things completed on time and took advantage of early start opportunities by working in the summer.
“This is one of the better requirements for graduation; it’s an element that we do very well in Warwick,” he said. “It’s back to being the quality that it was overall and that’s good to see.”
Habershaw said the senior project has resulted in a variety of topics.
“Kids still do projects that are career-oriented, but kids also do things that are more creative, so you get a variety,” he said, citing examples of a student that made a quilt and another who raised money for cancer research. “It’s good to see the kids choosing something that they’re interested in and taking off with that.”
McGair said one of the unique aspects of senior project at Vets involves handing out T-shirts to the students who pass. The shirts say, “I survived Senior Project” on the front and “Class of 2014” on the back.
“Our department heads and Principal Habershaw, who comprise our leadership team, raised the funds to provide the T-shirts,” he said, adding that the shirts will be a permanent fixture for senior project going forward. “We didn’t have them last year because we didn’t have the money. The leadership team wanted it to be a permanent fixture, so they raised the money.”
School Committee Chairwoman Beth Furtado, who has served as a senior project judge in past years and did it again this year for the early presentations at Toll Gate, praised the program.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity,” she said. “The students and educators should be commended. We had four excellent students in the group I was in at Toll Gate.”
The remaining seniors will present their projects on May 22.