Project Day caps school days for Greensburg Salem seniors | TribLIVE.com
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Deb Erdley

As the school year was wrapping up last spring, teachers at Greensburg Salem Senior High School distributed more than 200 three ring binders — one to each member of the outgoing junior class.

The students would have the summer to consider the senior projects that they are required to document in their binders.

Friday, one year and thousands of hours of work and anxiety later, 204 Greensburg Salem High School seniors gathered at the school.

In a tradition now dating a decade, each would present his or her binder including project plans, benchmarks met, project execution and essays. Then each would go before a panel of teachers and designated community members to give a Power Point presentation — ideally 12 to 15 minutes in length — describing and defending their work.

The school is among a growing number of high schools that include some kind of senior capstone project — be it a research paper, community service work, or as in Greensburg Salem’s case, a yearlong effort that showcases each student’s individual talents and passions — as a graduation requirement.

Greensburg Salem Senior Project Day is held on a teachers’ in-service day. All students except the seniors get the day off and all district teachers are required to participate in the panels that assess senior projects.

Initially there was some resistance to the program. Some students still dread the challenge.

But Principal David Zilli said many have confessed after the fact that the project was among their most meaningful work.

“We call it our best day,” Zilli said, explaining the program to new panelists. “Today, according to the kids, this is their greatest challenge conquered.”

Their efforts ranged from the star athlete who built his younger siblings a go-kart entirely from scratch, to the senior transfer student who landed in Greensburg in November and had to hustle to complete an unpaid internship at the Greensburg-Hempfield Library where he explored his love of books and detailed life behind the scenes and amid the stacks in a public library.

Senior Project co-director Marla Nelson, a high school English teacher, said the projects reflect not only the students’ successes, but also their struggles and their individual abilities.

“Some had failures and some had setbacks, but that’s okay. What is important is learning to persevere,” Nelson said.

Senior Joycelyn Santiago explored her compassion for the elderly by volunteering at the Seton Care Center, an adult daycare center for those afflicted with cognitive disabilities, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She said the research she put into preparation for her work there was daunting. She had to learn CPR, first aid and research the various ways different cognitive disabilities affect the elderly.

“I found I need to learn to manage my time better,” she said.

The experience cemented her desire to pursue a career in geriatric nursing. She said she’s taking a gap year to earn money for college. But, she is determined to meet her goal and the thick, well sourced project she put together suggested she’s heading in the right direction.

Andrew Chung, a senior honor student, tapped his month-long stay at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Global and International Affairs last summer as the centerpiece for his project that explored our role on the international stage. He’s still set on studying engineering at Penn State this fall, but said he’s looking at the world and his role in it from a different perspective.

Tyler Williams, the athlete who built a go-kart, had to scramble Friday morning when the pull cord used to start it broke and he had to make last minute repairs before unveiling his work on a sidewalk outside the school. The engine started.

His Power Point presentation came in just under the gun at 14 minutes and 58 seconds.

Throughout the year, students must meet with their advisors and demonstrate that they’ve met specific, periodic benchmarks along the way. In the days and weeks leading up to Senior Project Day, they rehearse with faculty advisors.

Izak Friedline, the transfer student who got a late start, said his advisors agreed to reduce some of the requirements and were supportive of his efforts to tackle the project as he struggled to adjust to make friends and adjust to a new school.

Panelists commended his efforts.

Middle school teacher Brian Higginbotham said he’s not sure students understand what the day means to teachers.

“I don’t think you realize this is our favorite day of the year,” he said as the presentations in room 356 wrapped up shortly before noon on Friday.

“It was awesome seeing all the amazing things you guys are doing.”

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