November 9, 2018

District seeks community involvement for WHS Senior Capstone Projects

By Elizabeth Richards

Seniors at Windham High School have a new graduation requirement this year that is intended to help them find their path after high school and show young people it’s not impossible to stay in Maine. 
The Senior Capstone project replaces the previous requirement of 40 hours of volunteering.  Lanet Hane, Director of Community Connections for RSU#14, said the district discovered that they were missing an opportunity to help students be better prepared for their careers.

“Maine has a big push to have students thinking about having a path after high school, and we really want to be part of that and be thinking intentionally about that, so that’s where the Capstone project came from,” Hane said.
Now, instead of simply doing 40 hours of service at random, students have to put together a project, complete with a final presentation, that better connects them to the community. The Capstone project is intended to take the same amount of time in a more coordinated and intentional way. 

Hane said students need to find someone in the community who will help them through the process of researching a topic that is of personal interest.  “It can be career related. It doesn’t have to be, but most students are choosing something that’s in the career realm,” Hane said. For instance, a student interested in law enforcement is connecting with local officers, will conduct research on requirements to be an officer and schools that might be a good fit, and could do a ride along. 

The Capstone Project has minimal basic requirements. Students will need to write a proposal, complete some short reflection papers, obtain mentor agreements and conduct a presentation to a panel of teachers and students for graduation credit. The presentation can be any format the student chooses – a paper that they discuss, a video, a play or another creative format. “It can be a lot of things, based on what makes sense for the project and the student,” Hane said.

The project is open ended, so while most will make their big push in their senior year, students can start it as early as they would like, Hane said. Because this is the first year the Capstone is required for graduation, the current goal is to be sure seniors, their families and community members know about it.

Seniors need to choose a teacher to advise them, and there is an optional quarter-long capstone preparation course available.  “It’s designed to be as independent as students want it to be,” said Hane.

Hane said she wants local businesses and members of the community to be aware that students may be reaching out to ask if they can shadow them, or request that they act as a mentor. She also said they don’t need to be scared by the idea of mentoring. “It’s not the huge commitment you often assume comes with a mentorship. It’s really being able to point them in the right direction,” she said, since they will also have a school advisor.

“Students are really going to be looking for people in different fields and might not know where to look,” said Hane.  Anyone willing to be engaged in the process can contact Hane or other school staff so they can build a list of those open to the idea.

 “It’s going to be interesting this year because there is so much learning, and such a process of figuring out how to make this work because it’s the first year,” Hane said.  There are more than 230 seniors to connect with community members who can help them find those resources. While finding people within the communities of Windham and Raymond is great, Hane said it’s more about helping students find their path, so they will go outside the immediate community if needed.

This kind of project for graduation credit is becoming more common, Hane said, especially in Maine where there’s a push for students to think about their future, whether or not that includes college.  The project is also meant to remind students that whatever career they want, there are local people who do it. 

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