Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let the graduation project begin!

My daughter, Anna, will graduate in 2012. That means she's in the first Wilson County Schools class required to complete a graduation project.
I moaned the first time I heard about the proposal. Just what we need, I thought, another project.
This child has used enough glue sticks and printer ink on school projects to supply a small school district. We are forever going out after dinner to buy supplies for such things as a scrapbook for Scout in "To Kill A Mockingbird" to Mod Podge or a bone folder (look it up; I'd never heard of it either) for an art project. Last night, we retrieved an old hairdryer and a white sheet from the linen closet at Mama's. I have no idea why she needs these things at school. She told me why she needed the hair dryer, which doesn't have to work, but I didn't understand the explanation. It involved wrapping something.
When I heard about the graduation project, I could only imagine the expense and the time element involved in such an undertaking. If you have a child in school, you are familiar with projects. We've done it all at our house: exploring the solar system; making papier mache masks; building dinosaurs from newsprint; researching poets; constructing a small-scale room; growing all kinds of plants. Right now, a crop of kidney beans planted in eight plastic cups is slowly wilting on my dining room table. Some projects are very elaborate and most are time-consuming.
This summer, Anna worked seven or eight hours a day (sometimes even more) on a summer IB art project. It consumed every waking moment for weeks with either the thought process, the purchasing of materials or the actual execution of the assignment in her sketchbook. She went about the project with a fierce determination and motivation to do it right.
She also spent several days with two Wilson artists who unselfishly gave their time to help her complete a requirement of exploring new art mediums.
The summer experience with IB art reminds me very much of what a graduation project will be. It will be time-consuming, it could be very expensive, and it will require the help of others. But it will also be a wonderful exercise in learning, and if it's like Anna's experiences this summer, it will stretch the student's imagination and broaden his knowledge. Perhaps it will even excite him, like it did my daughter when she learned how to properly change the lighting on a photograph and later made a black and white print in a photographer's darkroom.
Yesterday, Anna's English class learned more about the graduation project. Their teacher broke down the timeline over the next three years as they narrow in on a topic and work towards completion. At the request of her teacher, Anna asked her dad and me to talk to her about the project last night. She has already come up with three or four project ideas. They are all related to the arts and are all topics that are not taught in Wilson County Schools. If she finds a mentor willing to give 15 hours of his or her time, she will be able to learn more about print photography, Photoshop, silversmithing or hand-thrown pottery. The three of us talked about the possibilities the project offered and the people she could ask to help her. I'm so glad the schools already have them thinking about this project.
I hope other high school sophomores are having these same conversations with their parents. It's going to take not only the student and teachers to get these graduation projects complete, it's also going to take the parents and community, with volunteers willing to offer their time to teach their craft or share their occupation with students willing to learn.

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