Reflections of an English teacher
Summer ending, September beginning. With the passing of lazy days by the pool, family trips, sleeping in and fireworks, comes the transition to autumn and with it, the dominant partner of the fall season, a term that has grown to encompass so many thoughts, feelings, and actions this time of year. . . Back to School!
As an English teacher at Corner Canyon High School, I have my own set of emotions to attend to as a new school year begins—anxiety about new curriculum, curiosity about new students, anticipation to hear the renewed sound of chatter and laughter in the hallways. But as this year’s school season emerges, the overwhelming feeling I’m experiencing is excitement!
My excitement is based on a reflection of the last quarter of my seniors’ last year of high school. Two years ago, Canyons School District added a Senior Capstone project for all 12th graders, a culmination of their secondary learning experience. The project includes an extensive research paper, along with a series of genres to represent the topic, and a multi-media presentation. I introduced an additional requirement for students to “Live Their Topic,” meaning that they would take action in the real world to make a difference in some way regarding their topic. What I had given was an assignment; what I received in return captivated me and renewed my love of education.
When I introduced this project to my students, the responses went something like this: “We have to do WHAT the last semester of our senior year?” “But we have senioritis!” “This is hardest thing I’ve ever done!” “Why do we have to do this?” While I can’t cover the entire journey of the research, writing and creating process, let me share the results of some of our students that convince me that our community is raising leaders, and that we are in good hands here in our wonderful city of Draper. There were many impressive projects, here are seven.
I may occasionally brag about my students and have told many that Coleman is going to cure cancer. Because “curing cancer” has become a cliché, the words come across as a joke. But I’m serious! Coleman’s research and understanding of biomedical nanotechnology and using it to revolutionize medical practice, including its essential role in curing what are now incurable diseases, is wholly persuasive. In addition to his effective research paper, Coleman wrote a magazine article on how biomedical nanotechnology can change the world, created a Twitter account to educate followers about nanotechnology, recorded an informative podcast, wrote a poem entitled “Somber” that tells the story of nanotechnology from a nanobot’s point of view, and created diagrams that illustrate the possibilities for nanotechnological delivery systems to transport medications. If you aren’t blown away by this description, you should have seen his presentation—many mouths dropped, including mine.
I emphasized the importance of choosing topics students were passionate about, telling them that they would be “married to it” for two months. Zack took this advice and focused on a local issue important to him, his family and his athletic community: sanctioning lacrosse as a high school sport. Zack researched the growth of lacrosse and created products, including a professional brochure illustrating facts and statistics, a Prezi presentation and an informative Pinterest board, to persuade his audience. He administered a school survey and published his results, indicating overwhelming student support for sanctioning lacrosse, and wrote a persuasive letter to the Utah High School Athletic Association with his findings. He plans to meet with the UHSAA to present his entire portfolio in hopes that it will further the process. This fall, Zack is on scholarship to play lacrosse at Rutgers University, but should be applauded for continuing his efforts to effect change for younger players coming up through the high school system in Utah.
Inna’s project taught about devastating current political issues in her homeland of Ukraine. Currently a Draper resident, Inna was adopted only three years ago and still has a strong personal connection to her native country. Inna developed a video with over 300 clips documenting the past and present conflict between Ukraine and Russia. She also painted an original watercolor, symbolically illustrating the conflict, and conducted an audio interview with a Ukrainian friend who shared personal experiences of the turmoil in real time. Inna translated the interview from Russian to English to give us a first-hand view of the tragedy her relatives are experiencing. At the end of her presentation, the student audience was still and emotionally moved—suddenly the other side of the world didn’t seem so far away.
A favorite from the “Live Your Topic” genre, Lydia painted a haunting depiction of human trafficking and entered it into the Corner Canyon Art Show for others to learn and understand the reality of ongoing human slavery, even in the United States. She gave me the painting as a gift (one that I will treasure) and I will continue to forward her thesis by sharing it with future students.
Parker tackled a growing, alarming issue, particularly among teen drivers—distracted driving. For one of his genres, Parker filmed a unique movie trailer that dramatically demonstrated the dangerous effects of texting and driving. His film received a standing ovation at the end of the presentation. . .now that’s effective rhetoric!
Gaige brought his topic of sexual assaults on college campuses to a local level by interviewing CCHS police officer, Detective Barnes. Through this interview, which he published publicly on YouTube, he educated us about victim’s rights, the process of making complaints, how to defend yourself, and where to get help at CCHS, making the information relevant and applicable to our own students.
Mikail lived her topic of Complications of Foreign Aid by seeking out and helping those in poverty in our own community. Mikail bought and assembled 55 bundles of blankets, beef jerky and socks, and rather than delivering them to a homeless shelter, she gathered her friends and handed them personally to people living on the streets. Not only did she give them the welcomed items, but she also interviewed and discussed the issues important to them so that she could educate her classmates using personal experiences, rather than just statistics.
By the end of the project, as students stood up as experts and presented the results of their research, creative products, and actions they were taking to educate and create change, I became the student and they were the teachers. I learned about the environmental impact of solar roadways, the chemical changes pornography addiction creates in the brain, the challenges in combating the organizational structure of ISIS. They amazed me by going above and beyond my expectations, showing passion and dedication to solving real issues.
My excitement for the new school year is based on the desire to see new seniors go through this process and embrace their own topics, taking action to forward their theses and make a difference. I’m excited for them to teach me! I agree with senior Kenz Hall’s reflective statement: “Being educated about a serious issue is the only way to fully understand it.” So to all parents and students in the Draper area: It is demanding and a lot of hard work. It will stretch you. But, it will also create growth, ignite passion and spread learning that will reach beyond the classroom. In short, the Senior Capstone Project is worth it!