Senior Project Builds A Passion for Success
“Hey I’ve got great news! I just caught a fish on the pole I built for my Senior project!”
The excitement this young man had in his voice wasn’t to call and brag by no means. He doesn’t know what it means to brag; he’s the humblest soul around. He called me to share his pride in a personal accomplishment gained from the daunting task of organizing a Senior Project for his high school English class.
Noel Pizana is one of 8 high school students that has spent the last 9 months stewing over the details that go into planning and carrying out the Senior Project that is a requirement of the English 12 class, taught by Lynnette Weddle at North Park High School. "Besides the first and last day of every school year, the two days of Senior Project presentations are my absolute favorite. Seniors gain skills in long-term planning, time management, critical thinking, independence, budgeting, work ethic, public speaking, flexibility, learning from setbacks or failures. This project teaches perseverance, pride, passion," shared Mrs. Weddle.
The Senior Project started nearly 2 decades ago under the instruction of then History teacher Steve Beck and Science teacher Matt Landis. Since its inception, the Senior Project has evolved into a model program the State of Colorado Department of Education is using to implement with new English standards for graduation in 2020.
The Class of 2017 held an open house April 20 at the high school cafeteria, which aligned perfect with the community Nature Night held to celebrate Earth Day. Over 100 guests, students, mentors and judges attended the Open House to see their hard work.
Morgan Hutcheson went on a mission trip to Mexico in December for her project. Her life will forever be changed by the experience she had. She shared with me that “They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Morgan’s favorite experience was spending time at an orphanage, although she found the conditions and language barrier the most difficult part of the experience. Missions is something she definitely wants to participate again in her future and hopes to build a career that will include those experiences again.
Rogelio Meza organized a football camp because he loves the sport and wanted to mentor young people. He picked a great project to suit him. Rogelio is invited to play at the Colorado 6-Man All State games in June. His love of football was the driving force of picking the project and he wanted the younger kids to have someone to look up to. When asked what was the most difficult part, he replied “having responsibility of kids as a teacher.” In Ro’s Football Camp he organized and directed the fundamentals of the sport of football while sharing his passion for the game.
Jordan Larsen had always wanted to learn how to sew. She had also looked for the last three years for a prom dress that was her dream. She took that interest and turned it into learning a new skill. With the help of mentor Jamie Crocket, she designed and constructed a Victorian style prom dress. Jordan shared that making the corset was the hardest, as well as the most rewarding part of the experience. She learned to make several other items too such as bags. This new-found love will be a skill she plans to use throughout her life.
Cheyenne Harper is already known as a successful cattle showman in the local 4H program where she’s participated for the last 10 years. Her years of knowledge gained and the skill set she acquired made organizing her Senior project easy. Cheyenne took her passion for show cattle and organized three Steer Showing Clinics where she taught the whole process of raising a club calf to interested young cattlemen. On average she had six students attend her clinics. “The hardest part was organizing what to teach and putting it together so they were learning.” She enjoyed her project so much she wants to pursue a future in pro cattle fitting and work with a program like Stock Show University that offers cattle fitting clinics nationally. I loved her camp motto, “Fluffy cows take a lot of work.”
Shelby McAdoo used her passion for vintage automobiles and interest in mechanics to restore the bed of her father’s 49 Chevy pickup. “I loved helping my Dad when I was little and wanted to do something nice for him.” “Bolting it together was the hardest thing and I even cried in frustration, but seeing it at the end all together made it worth it.” I asked what Dads reaction to the labor of love was and he said, “Now it’s time to go to work to make the rest look that good.”
Jake Wintemote learned to make knives with the assistance of mentor Max Maxwell. “I originally was interested after Pete (VanValkenburg) gave me one. “I learned so much and loved making them. The hardest part was getting the right indexing by shaping the wood.” Jake shared that his mentor was the best and he taught him so much, including that he doesn’t want to do this as a career. Jake has been able to sell several knives and has many people that have ordered them. He wants to learn how to forge the steel to make them next, now that he has figured out how to build the handles and make a good quality knife. Mentor Maxwell was happy to share his thoughts about the projects too, “This is good stuff.”
Kason Brown fed his passion of fishing by learning to tie flies. Scott Graham, manager at North Park Anglers, served as Kason’s mentor and already knew him well from volunteering to work with him over the past few years to teach him the basics. Kason is literally hooked on the art of tying flies and demonstrated for the open house visitors on how to build one. Many kids were able to take one home as a souvenir from his demonstration. “Building the wings was the hardest part to learn. I’ve gotten good enough that it only takes about 10 minutes now to build one. When I started it took about 30.” Kason shared that his mentor was amazing and taught him how important it was to be patient. “I couldn’t have had a better person teach me.”
The young man that called and shared his success story of catching a fish on his pole, that was Noel Pizana. He worked with mentor Jay Edwards to learn to construct a new graphite fly fishing pole from raw materials. “Building the guides was so hard. Then I had to remake part of my pole after it broke.” Noel enjoyed his project so much he intends on becoming a professional guide in the fly fishing industry and will attend school this summer to become certified. His skill will become well known and something he can use in his future career. When asked about his mentor, he eagerly shared how much he enjoyed the time they spent working together. “He’s teaching me more than just building a pole. I’ve learned to tie flies too. I love my mentor.”
The common theme through visiting with all eight students was that they were passionate about their projects, loved their mentors and had future plans to do more in those fields. Guest from the Colorado State Parks and Wildlife attended the open house and were pleasantly surprised at the projects and the student presentations. “We couldn’t have presented like this at their age.” Feeding a passion is what engages students to learn and want to stay involved. North Park Board of Education President, Matt Shuler said of the project program, “It's invaluable. The success is unmeasurable and students learn more life lessons from this than most anything from us. Some of the best lessons come from the biggest mistakes.”
Jill Honneke has served on the board for 9 years and was also impressed. “As a school board member I'm really impressed how hard they work. I was surprised what some learned. I’m most impressed by lessons they learned.
In 2020 the Capstone Project, also known as our Senior Project, will become a possible requirement in Colorado as a way to show competence. In our school it will be a requirement by policy. Principal Jack Daly is excited about the program. “I love that it makes kids challenge themselves in different ways than school does and love for students to be able to understand that they're capable of doing more. Seeing them do something without the handholding of teachers or someone telling them exactly what to do gives them responsibility and they have pride in what they create.”
Senior panel judge Catie Olney says that in the time she’s observed as a judge she has noticed their skill in presenting is most impressive. “Presenting helps develop their project. When they first present their topics, they tend to be unsure and shy. By the end, they are so full of confidence and passion." Judge John Myers was also encouraged and recognized their individual growth.
The program has evolved and changed a great deal. Mrs. Weddle shared that the addition of Brenda Brown as an advisor has evolved the program tremendously. “Mrs Brown has changed the program so much. Mostly in the technology aspect, she has brought it up to the 20th century with online documents, more accessibility and the ability to do surveys. Mrs. Weddle added, "This community surrounds and supports the students from panel members meeting several times a year, parents encouraging and enjoying the products of their student, staff offering suggestions and time to practice, panel members evaluating the presentations and mentors who donate 9 to 12 months of their personal time to help a student."
Community member and panel judge, Pat Powell has been involved in a variety of ways over six years. She mentored Codi Baller’s landscaping project, has judged and been here for advice on several projects. “When picking the type of project, if they can focus on what type of project- community service, hobby, career interest- then build the project around that framework it makes a successful project.” Powell finds great value in the project as well. “It’s amazing to be involved with amazing kids. This phenomenal experience makes the kids dedicated and it’s so creative. It makes me inspired and hopeful.”
Our school has plenty of reason to be proud and is on the cutting edge of developing the program for the State. Mrs. Weddle is eager to share this success at upcoming seminars. In closing she wants to remind us what this program brings to her students, "Smiles, satisfaction, and success! Love it. Come join us next April to see what "kids these days" can do!"