- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) - Access-Ability, a local nonprofit that loans medical equipment to those in need, received a $10,000 donation.

Columbus East High School has a new a cappella group called the Acalympians.

Pregnancy support agency Route 21 has 20 new baby blankets to distribute to teen mothers.

That all transpired from a longtime Columbus high school tradition: the senior project.

The projects have been a rite of passage for seniors since 2003, when they became mandatory for every student to graduate from Columbus North High School, Columbus East High School and, later, Columbus Signature Academy New Tech.

Four years of coursework and learning come down to a 10-minute presentation to a panel of judges from the school and from the community.

“This process is a culmination of all the skills they have been learning and they have been taught through formal years of schooling,” Anne Edds, senior project coordinator at East, told The Republic (http://bit.ly/1mRUN6N ). “It lets students take charge of and take responsibility for their own learning.”

Columbus East High School first offered a senior capstone course in 2000 as part of its college-readiness pathway.

The project was not mandatory and only about half of the senior class participated - but that quickly changed.

Teachers and administrators presented the idea to the superintendent and school board at the time.

“They were so supportive of the concept that they mandated it for all seniors,” Director of Secondary Education Bill Jensen said.

Jensen said the senior projects are designed so students can show their teachers and the community what they can do beyond passing tests.

All Columbus seniors - there were about 850 of them this year - are given the same requirements: a proposal, a research paper, a project, a portfolio and a presentation.

“They should be able to articulate how the project has stretched their learning and their intellectual growth through their senior project journey,” Jensen said.

Edds said the project provides students with a set of skills they can use outside of the classroom. Students learn if they set up a meeting, they are going to need to be there on time. And they learn if they procrastinate, they are going to fall behind and experience stress.

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