Each year, seniors at Upper Arlington High School and The Wellington School take on projects that would impress any college professor.
From advocating for new state health and safety laws to addressing world hunger, these seniors are stepping up to become a new generation of leaders.
Upper Arlington High School
In the past, each UAHS student was required to complete a senior thesis paper. The senior Capstone project, introduced six years ago, builds upon that foundation.
“The Capstone project promotes the skills of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication, which have been identified as essential for post-secondary success,” says Capstone coordinator Yvonne Edwards.
Students start working on their projects at the beginning of the school year by formulating an “essential question” that they will explore throughout the entire project.
Ashley Williams started her project during her junior year, attending the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, which is hosted by the World Food Prize, as one of six Ohio delegates. That event, where she met many international figures who were working to improve the quality and quantity of food to people all over the world, plus an interest in art led her to ask the essential question, “How can I use art to raise awareness about global concerns?”
She created necklaces out of recycled newspaper and started wearing them to school. Inspired by the interest of her peers, Williams visited Columbus-based Fair Trade store Global Gallery, which has locations in Clintonville and the Short North, and worked out a deal to sell the necklaces in support of the store director’s trips to Bolivia.
“In the span of four months, I was close to raising $2,500 off of recycled newspaper, hemp and beads,” Williams says.
Each Capstone project includes a position paper, community service and a government connection assignment – identifying a social issue, researching how government has handled it and arguing how it would be best addressed – as well as creation of a product demonstrating what the student has learned and a 10-minute year-end presentation.
So far, Williams has taught large groups of Jones and Hastings middle school students how to make her necklaces and discussed marketing and selling the necklaces with smaller groups of students.
“In one day, a group of fourth- and fifth-grade girls raised $450 for Bolivian orphans,” Williams says.
Williams is working with copyright lawyers to create a for-profit company, El Cambio, that supports both entrepreneurs and nonprofit causes.
Senior Corey Hayes’ project has had a more local effect. Hayes suffered six concussions throughout his junior high and high school sports careers, which left him with lasting effects, including damaged vision. After learning about an Ohio House bill setting rules for when and if student athletes can return to play after head injuries (House Bill 143), Hayes contacted his state representatives and got involved.
“I was able to provide written testimony for the Senate Health Committee to help the bill get out of committee for a vote,” Hayes says. “It recently passed (the Senate) and I had the fortunate experience of going to the governor’s signing and helping him sign the bill.”
For the rest of his project, Hayes plans to create a handbook on concussion prevention and education for referees, athletic trainers and parents.
The Wellington School
Wellington seniors have two options for projects. Senior Independent Project, the older of the two programs, is similar to Upper Arlington’s Capstone project in that students develop an essential question related to their interests and spend as much as the whole school year working on a project. They are allowed the final two weeks of the school year to work solely on their projects and then present their work to the public on SIP night, this year scheduled for June 5.
Senior Focus, now in its second year, is a course for which students must apply. They still pick an area of interest, but they spend the first half of the year working on a 15-20 page research paper and the second half on field work related to their research. Their projects finish with a 30-minute presentation and 45-minute question-and-answer session before a panel of experts.
Prompted by the fourth annual TEDx Columbus event held in October, Alexandra Armeni decided to organize a TEDxYouth event at Wellington. TED is a nonprofit organization that hosts conferences where people speak for 18 minutes on a variety of topics. TEDx events are independently-organized events in the same vein. Armeni’s event, TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool, is scheduled from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. May 15.
“It’s focused on Big Ideas, and it’s going to incorporate people from the Wellington community,” Armeni says. Instead of 18-minute presentations, those chosen will give 10-minute presentations ranging from speeches to performances.
Since her event takes place before the two-week period that SIP participants have out of classes, Armeni will spend that time formatting videos of the presentations, sending “Thank You” notes and administering surveys – all part of the guidelines she must follow as a TEDx event organizer.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Armeni says. “It’s really opening my eyes to a lot of things.”
Helen Fite chose to apply for Senior Focus because she knew it would push her outside her comfort zone. Her paper discusses the “glass ceiling” in place over women in politics, especially within the U.S. party system.
“I’m interested in women in leadership. That’s definitely something that I want to do with my life,” Fite says. She’s been working with former state Rep. Dan Dodd (D) to reach out to women who have had experience in this area.
Being part of the class, which provides a bit of structure and accountability for the project, has been helpful to Fite.
Many schools focus more on teaching skills and don’t give students a chance to apply them, says Head of School Robert Brisk, who leads Senior Focus.
“We want to give them a chance to use them in ways that are deeper and more meaningful. We wanted to give them space to explore that passion fully,” Brisk says.
Lisa Aurand is editor of Tri-Village Magazine. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.