- Associated Press - Sunday, May 7, 2017

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Greensburg Salem student Liz Rullo presented her senior project to school and community members Friday. But her work isn’t over yet. In fact, it’s just beginning.

“The biggest thing about your senior project is that it’s supposed to help you with your future,” Rullo said.

She said that her project was the starting point for what could become a career in the military.

Attending the U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar last year and reflecting on that experience as she completed the requirements of the year-long senior project gave her the confidence to pursue a Navy ROTC scholarship.

Rullo will attend the University of Pittsburgh this fall and intends to major in math and engineering.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education requires 21 credits across various subject areas for graduation, but not a senior project.

Keystone Exams and project-based assessments were added as a state graduation requirement in 2014. As of 2016, those requirements were put on hold until the 2018-19 school year while the Education Department and lawmakers evaluate improved requirements moving forward.

Keystone Exams are still administered, but a certain grade is not required by the state for graduation.

School districts determine if senior projects are necessary for graduation.

At Greensburg Salem, a senior project is the final piece of the high school’s career awareness program, which starts freshman year. Over four years of high school, students meet guest speakers, complete job shadowing and take on a series of presentations and research assignments intended to help them explore career options.

“Is this a career they really want to spend the money and go to college for?” Assistant Principal Joe Maluchnik said, explaining the overarching goal of the project.

Not all districts have been able to maintain long-term projects.

Burrell High School eliminated senior projects in 2013, when Keystone Exams became a graduation requirement. In the past, students were required to complete a portfolio over their four years of high school and make a presentation to parents and community members.

While Burrell Principal John Boylan thinks the projects had a positive impact on students, providing closure at the end of their school careers, he said that finding time to hold presentations was a challenge.

“We have so much testing to do and time constraints to do it,” Boylan said, listing just a few of the events that crowd the calendar at the end of the school year, such as Advanced Placement testing, Keystone exams, prom, concerts and senior awards banquets.

“It was very difficult to carve time to fit it in,” he said.

Other schools have revised projects in recent years to accommodate students’ busy schedules and prepare them for the demands of a competitive workforce.

Projects at Mt. Pleasant High School weren’t always career-based, according to Jennifer Mikulsky, a guidance counselor who coordinates the projects.

The school changed course from an academic-based project to one focused on practical skills like job searching and interviewing.

Projects are due at the beginning of the school year, ahead of college applications. This ensures that students have plenty of time to evaluate their goals, plan their senior year coursework and seek post-high school opportunities that fit them best.

“It’s easy to forget how stressful becoming an adult can be,” said Jon Banko, assistant superintendent at New Kensington-Arnold High School. “Regardless of a student’s plans come June, school is what they’ve known most of their lives.”

He sees the senior project as “a more practical tool” to help prepare seniors to “enter the community and take on productive roles,” whether they plan to go on to college or join the workforce or military.

Students are required to compile a portfolio that includes documents like a resume, cover letter, research paper and an essay reflecting on their experiences in high school.

Students also must complete 24 hours of community service.

“If you’ve never done any of those things, they can be a little intimidating,” Banko said. “Maybe enough to discourage trying something new.”





Information from: Tribune-Review, https://triblive.com

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