Senior Projects: a Necessary Evil for Big Sky Students

Rachel Levison working on her Senior Project; building garden beds for the Exceptionalities Program  to maintain in following years. Photos by Wesley Rolle

Rachel Levison working on her Senior Project; building garden beds for the Exceptionalities Program to maintain in following years. Photos by Wesley Rolle

Rachel Levison working on her Senior Project; building garden beds for the Exceptionalities Program to maintain in following years. Photos by Wesley Rolle

Wesley Rolle, Features & Supervising Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

A Big Sky Senior, May, Library:

Okay, print!

Let’s go grab my papers from the –oh shoot, I sent it to the color printer– Aren’t I supposed to pay for that ink? — Oh well, no one saw, I don’t think.

Now, where is that three-hole puncher?

Wait! Do I staple it?

Or do I three-hole punch it and staple it?

Yeah, let’s do that…

Okay that was a mistake.

Does it still look good even though I ripped the staple out?


Guess I’ll just reprint it.

Yes, print twenty-two of twenty-two pages. Again.

No, I don’t want it double sided, I want this to look as long as possible.

Back to the printer I go.

Dang it — color again.

And on to the three-hole puncher…

Crap, it can’t handle my stack of papers.  I gotta do small amounts at a time.

Heck yeah, I’m done, let’s put this in the binder!

What the — really? My papers are out of order.

Should probably fix that.

Okay, sweet, now I’m done!

Let’s turn this puppy in.

The deadline was only three days ago — I’m golden.


The senior project can be difficult to sum up into a brief explanation, but perhaps that is because it isn’t meant to be one; maybe it’s supposed to be a long and confusing experience whose purpose is to challenge students.

“The senior project is an extended project that involves forethought, follow through, and time management to help students learn to meet new people and take initiative without a great deal of direction,” says Meleina Helmer, English teacher and Senior Project Coordinator at Big Sky.

“It teaches such necessary skills,” Helmer says, “everything that the students pick up and learn through the process are really helpful in — more than anything — just teaching the students perseverance.”

Senior Rachel Levison wishes to build life skills for the Special Education students of Big Sky by working side by side with them, building a collection of garden beds.

“The purpose of the project is to give the kids life skills of construction, garden maintenance, and eventually, cooking in a therapeutic way,” says Levison.

Transporting wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow of mulch and soil, Levison, along with the many students involved in the exceptionalities program, worked through the sun and heat of spring to construct the garden beds which will be used to grow all of the necessary vegetables for making salsa; such as tomatoes, peppers, and onions. The salsa will then be sold at fairs and markets by the students of the Special Education Department.

Levison has successfully completed her senior project and hopes that her work will continue to serve as a way for the Exceptionalities Program to grow and develop in integral life skills.

The senior project has a long history with Big Sky, starting around fifteen years ago. When the projects originally came about, the school was site-based, meaning that the teachers had a large amount of control over the direction of the school and where they wanted it to go. The teachers aimed for professional development, so they looked at “best practice” and found that other schools around the country had been doing these senior projects. After attending a few symposiums about these projects, the teachers at Big Sky decided that it was something they wanted their students to do. Over the years, the event gained popularity and became a graduation requirement for all seniors enrolled at Big Sky.

Today, the senior projects aren’t just a graduation requirement, they’re a tradition; not just for the seniors organizing them, but for their friends and family and all of the underclassmen who come to watch their presentation on that anticipated spring day in May.

Though presentation day seems like it should bring a breath of relief for the students, it’s a day much of the senior class dread — even hate.

However, after completing their project, many students will say that the project was worth it and valuable.

“Before the seniors finish their senior projects on senior project presentation day, the majority of them will tell you that it’s awful and that they hate it and it’s stupid and there’s nothing good about it,” says Helmer. “But consistently, we get feedback from students who have graduated that doing a senior project was a really valuable thing for them to do and it really helped them a great deal and they didn’t realize how much it helped them until after they left,” she explains, elaborating on the fact that it may take some time for the students to appreciate the work that goes into making a senior project.

Echoing what Helmer said about the value of the projects, seniors Madison Dohman and Baylee Hawkins believe that by completing their senior projects, they’ve learned some significant skills that they think will help them in the future.

“Personally, I’ve learned a lot of time management skills,” says Dohman, reflecting on the inevitable procrastination that consumes much of the senior class during their preparation for their projects.

Though procrastination doesn’t fare well with hard deadlines, it’s a bitter reality for many people.

Helmer thinks that procrastination is one of the biggest challenges senior students face, but is also completely normal and understandable. “I don’t blame students for wanting to procrastinate, you know, because they want to spend their time doing fun things and enjoying  their last year or so of their childhood,” she says, “there’s just so much going on and it’s just a very full year, mentally and emotionally. I think they just want to be doing other things.”

Procrastination is a killer, but it’s not the only challenge students face when completing a project.

One of the most frustrating and time consuming obstacles seniors experience is simply finding a good project.

“Throughout the years, one of the biggest struggles students have encountered is finding a good project,” says Helmer. “As much as we tell students to get a project that you really want to do, a lot of them still have the tendency to choose to do something they think will be easy, but then they’re not invested in it and then it’s not very fun.”

And it’s not just the boring projects that students decide to pursue that are challenging; some students may attempt to tackle a project that in the end, is just too much.

“Some students try to take on something that’s too big for them and they have a hard time scaling it back, and so they just end up really over-stressing themselves,” Helmer says.

Seniors like Dohman and Hawkins were lucky enough to avoid this issue by choosing to do a project that was both manageable and enjoyable.

“I was a fourth grade basketball coach. I played basketball when I was younger and got hurt and couldn’t play anymore, so coaching was a super cool thing for me to do,” says Dohman.

And for Hawkins, working with E.M.Ts and completing her project gave her a genuine sense of accomplishment and the feeling of having organized priorities.

“It really showed me what was important to me,” says Hawkins, “It was also cool to look back on what I did. For a lot of the pieces I did, I accomplished some of my best work.”

Despite the stressful and frustrating nature of the senior projects, there’s a common agreement amongst students and staff that by accomplishing the work, the long term benefits outweigh the short term struggles.

Levison loves the success of her project and appreciates the work it took to complete it, saying:“I would definitely do this project again if I could; I’m sad that I won’t be here to see how the garden and the kids grow next year. It was so great to see the students develop and work alongside me on this!”

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.

Navigate Right
Navigate Left
Senior Projects: a Necessary Evil for Big Sky Students