IV. Preparation

Riverdale is transitioning from requiring students to complete community service hours to helping students develop service-learning projects independently and in groups. Although community service is a school-wide requirement, whenever we can make that service sustainable, academically rigorous, and civically rich, we do so. The expectation is that seniors will develop service learning projects, rather than just completing community service hours.

Through our service-learning grant, Riverdale staff has worked service learning into curriculum. Service learning will become increasingly second nature to students as they complete projects throughout the curriculum.

For example, last semester a science teacher taught a course about water. The class learned about water shortages and purification in developing countries and then raised money to turn the water on in a Kenyan nursery school. Students in a history class wrote entries for the Oregon Encyclopedia, an online resource developed and edited by the Oregon Historical Society. In English class, students will engage in an Internet exchange with students from Iraq and Lebanon.

First Trimester
The first major senior exhibition project is the proposal. To prepare, students participate in an in class writing assignment and are given a proposal sample.

Students turn in a first draft as a major assignment of first trimester. They work from this draft and then present it at their first panel. The proposal presents what the student is planning to study, the question they will pursue, the service-learning project they propose, their current research, and professional contacts.

Second Trimester
The goals include students presenting their proposals to an all-grade level panel, completing their service-learning projects and writing a complete first draft of their research papers. The panels provide feedback that seniors use to develop their plans, adjust essential questions, and collaborate on service-learning projects.

Seniors either create individual service-learning projects, or if there are areas of overlap with other students, work together in small groups. Students must develop a service-learning proposal which is approved.

One of the most powerful ways students prepare for the senior exhibition is that students from all grade levels participate in panels and using a protocol process, provide seniors with feedback, suggestions, and leads for research and networking. Seniors use the three senior panels to develop, polish, and present their projects. They find that students at every grade level are “critical friends,” engaged, inquisitive, and sometimes astonishingly helpful.

Students are given a schedule with important dates to remember and a senior panels schedule.

Third Trimester
At the beginning of third trimester, seniors present their research papers. At this point, they are inspired to revise and refine their papers after the second all-school panel. These final revisions often add both depth and clarity to the final versions of the papers. Papers are distributed a few days before the panel and then teachers facilitate a feedback protocol during which seniors hear which parts of their papers need refinement.

Seniors spend the rest of the trimester planning and developing interactive presentations. The final student panel is a dress rehearsal for the public presentation when each senior presents her findings, conclusions, service, and new perspective. The final panel allows seniors to receive feedback on the activities and information used in their presentations. Teachers develop a calendar of presentations.

Many seniors use PowerPoint as their format, but this is not required. They are encouraged to make their presentations informative, provocative, and interactive; in other words, the seniors become excellent teachers!

Preparation through Conversations
Typically students will begin thinking and talking about their senior exhibition projects before the class starts second trimester senior year. It is reassuring for students to know that they can use me as a sounding board before they are immersed and accountable. I make announcements to seniors that they may speak with me before school, after school, or at lunch to brainstorm ideas for their projects.

Often students want to focus on their essential question and ask, “Is this a good question?” I ask why the student interested in the topic, what he or she has read so far, if he or she has contacts who are working in the field, what other topics are of interest and what the student is thinking of doing as a service-learning project. These conversations continue through the year and become the most important work I do as the senior exhibition teacher.

Santha Cassell, Senior Exhibition Teacher

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