Help seniors make the most of senior projects

Seniors at Dana Hall are fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in a project of their choice, capping off their final year of high school. Projects can range from an internship in a field of interest to researching one’s family history or volunteering with a nonprofit. However, I noticed that many of my peers struggled to secure an enriching experience, and I believe there are ways to strengthen the program so it is more impactful.

First, we should establish a digital archive of senior projects for future students to access. The archive could include seniors’ final presentations and journal entries that detail the daily structure of their projects. Students could refer to that material for ideas, structural guidance, and key contacts, especially Dana Hall alumnae with similar interests.

According to Ms. Dorothy DeSimone, an Archivist at Dana Hall, the Archives do not officially collect senior projects because the Dana Hall Archives Collection Policy excludes student work. Ms. DeSimone explained, though, that they have many senior projects from previous years that students left behind. However, most are discarded since they do not meet the Archives collection criteria. Instead of throwing them out, Dana Hall should upload images of these projects into the digital archive, an exception to the Archives Collection Policy.

One of the goals of senior projects is to improve students’ networking abilities and allow them to gain social capital. However, the program assumes that each student starts at the same point, which is not the case. Students’ connections to a network of adults in a multitude of professions vary based on their parents’ jobs, if they live local to Dana Hall, and more factors. A database of organizations/individuals willing to host a Dana Hall senior would enhance and equalize students’ networking experiences. 

A call to participate in this database could go out to alumnae, past senior project hosts, and the parent community. Those who agree would be organized digitally for all seniors to access equally. This would be a much more equitable way for students to network instead of expecting us to already have connections through our families and friends.

The current time frame also hinders seniors’ efforts. We have around nine days to complete our projects, which is restrictive for both students and hosts. Other schools in the area, such as Newton Country Day, allot seniors a month, allowing for a more valuable experience. Organizations would presumably prefer to host a student for a month instead of nine days, which doesn’t give them much flexibility. Dana Hall should lengthen projects so that students can have a more meaningful impact. 

Dana Hall waits until after AP exams to release seniors, whereas Newton Country Day begins projects beforehand. This means Newton Country Day students study independently and at their own pace for their AP exams. Overall, Newton Country Day’s approach seems more beneficial: Seniors have adequate time to complete their projects and can study without the stress of balancing work from other classes. 

Moreover, the school must share guidelines with seniors earlier in the year. My class was told to start thinking about projects immediately before March break. We weren’t given a detailed framework until returning in April, the same month our proposals were due. As a result, several students scrambled to pull together a project after reaching out to various organizations with no success. If details were shared as early as January, students would have sufficient time to search for, contact, and hear back from potential hosts. Realistically, that process takes longer than a couple of weeks. With an earlier introduction, it would be easier for students to identify and plan a project they are passionate about.

Senior projects are already a valuable end to one’s Dana Hall education. With these changes, they can become an even better opportunity for seniors to explore their interests, pursue their passions, and learn beyond a classroom. 

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