Good-bye graduation projects?

Lauren Williams Staff Writer

August 24, 2013

For the past several years, high school students in Sampson County Schools have been required to complete a graduation project, often working on it well before their senior year and presenting their final product to school officials and various community leaders and members before graduation. Come Monday night, those graduation projects could be a thing of the past.

During the Sampson County Board of Education’s work session Tuesday, superintendent Dr. Ethan Lenker and Col. Tommy Macon, assistant superintendent of academics and student services, explained why the school system may need to say good-bye to graduation projects.

“We’ve had great success with graduation projects over the last four or five years,” said Lenker, “but things have changed with Common Core and the new curriculum. The need for graduation projects isn’t what it once was.”

“I’m probably the biggest advocate for graduation projects,” added Macon, “but the reality is that the curriculum meets most, if not all, of the needs.”

In discussing a halt to graduation projects beginning this school year, 2013-14, Macon called the change “a good service to teachers,” explaining that the time educators spend working with students on graduation projects could, instead, be spent teaching more of the curriculum.

Macon noted that the system would “not be losing but actually gaining” because of the expected increase in the amount of instruction, an increase that would help students perform better on tests and that would be appreciated by teachers who are evaluated on their students’ performance.

School board member and retired teacher Faye Gay disagreed, throwing her support behind graduation projects.

“Every child that has done a graduation project says that is is beneficial,” she said, pointing out that she has judged numerous projects and has received much positive feedback from students.

Gay described how the work involved in the project, the lessons in the dangers of procrastinating, and the practice of presenting in front of an audience are all experiences that are beneficial for students to have under their belts before heading off the college or into the workforce.

Acknowledging that Gay made good points, Macon replied that, despite those positive experiences and results, the main problem with graduation projects is that they are “a detraction from teachers.”

School board member and former educator Sonya Powell shared that she was part of the committee that started graduation projects and that she served as a graduation coordinator. Powell recalled how much time graduation projects required of both the student and the teacher, time that took away from instruction and time that she as a teacher hated losing.

“What are we telling the rising seniors about what they did last year? That it doesn’t mean anything?” questioned fellow board member G.H. Wilson, bringing up how students work on their graduation projects throughout much of high school.

Students’ previous work will still be usable, responded Macon, explaining that students will continue to do projects and make presentations for their classes throughout high school with the new curriculum.

Powell added that those rising seniors have already received grades for various parts of the project like the research and the writing.

The school board agreed to vote on the issue during their next regular board meeting which is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Central Office auditorium.

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at