Relief Walking out of the Room

haulin netThree years ago, I led a small group of trailblazers across the state to attend a Senior Project conference. I’ve stayed in touch with their work. West Carteret HS English teacher Nancy Reynolds has evolved the initiative as written.

Each year it gets better and better because Nancy Reynolds gets it!

This year’s edition of the Graduation Project at West has the following stellar new features:

  1. The project presentations are done in the late afternoons and early evenings.
  2. Anywhere from six to twelve classrooms are used simultaneously for student presentations.
  3. The panel of judges has significant membership as Communities in Schools has taken a role in recruitment of judges.
  4. Students upgrade their attire for the event.
  5. All students greet their panel of judges with eye contact, firm handshakes and smiles.
  6. The judges are generally positive about the energy and thorough work our seniors display.
  7. Our new technology infusion has allowed students greater access to data projectors for their presentations.

I joined Ms. Reynolds’ class the morning after the first presentations were held. The excitement in the class was palpable. Students reviewed their presentations and offered keen insight to subsequent presenters.

Many of these students are athletes, band members, chorus members and so on. Often as members of teams, they have had exposure on big stages. But the experience of the Senior Project is unique.

The intimate stage is one small classroom. In it, one student presents products of inquiry, learning and research to a panel of three adult and unfamiliar judges from the community. The time limit is fifteen minutes, and the students are assessed on comprehensive rubrics.

The pressure is intense. And the sense of relief shared by those who have completed their presentations clearly qualifies their work as true Graduation Projects.

Senior (or Graduation) Projects are soon to become a right of passage in North Carolina Public Schools. Done properly—and this is key—the presentation of the projects will inspire students to value face-to-face conversation, persuasion and networking in an infinite text messaging culture.

Practice + Proficiency = Poise in Presentation. What I like the most about all this is that Nancy Reynolds—and her significant supporting cast—ensures that her students’ Graduation Projects are done properly.


Postscript: I just got home from judging this evening’s projects. Nancy began the evening with a 30-minute orientation for the 30 judges. (Assembling 30 judges from the community in and of itself is a project!)

We worked in ten groups of three. Each group judged 2-3 presentations. So she has got the logistics hammered out.

The three projects that were presented to my group are as follows:

  • Shipping 10,000 loaded backpacks to Paraguay.
  • Choreographing and performing an original dance.
  • Editing and running the daily morning news broadcast at our school.

I know our students felt the pressure of presenting to unfamiliar judges. I know they did fine, even inspiring, jobs. I know they felt relief walking out of the room.

I know I did too . . . knowing that the trajectory for the Graduation Project, done properly, is alive and well at WCHS.


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