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Laguna Blanca Seniors Take Foray Into Future

Senior projects provide an opportunity to explore potential careers

Fifty-five Laguna Blanca senior projects were completed and presented in Spaulding Auditorium this month.

The senior project program represents a school tradition spanning more than 30 years and is a distinctive feature of the school’s curricular requirements. Once seniors have completed their academic requirements and taken their Advanced Placement tests, they depart the Hope Ranch campus and step into the real world for two weeks to pursue a passion or to investigate a possible college major or career choice.

“Many college students today are challenged with choosing a major — some changing majors in their junior year, thus adding an extra year to their education which is commonly referred to as the five-year plan,” said Trish McHale, director of the senior project program.

One of the many benefits of the senior project program is that Laguna seniors have the opportunity to take a sneak peek into a potential career and gain a jump-start on choosing a college major. Some seniors enter into a project expecting it to be their dream career, and after spending time in their field — working alongside an engineer, for instance — they come away realizing that while they learned a lot, they realize it’s not a career for them. It saves seniors time, effort and energy, and it saves their tuition-paying parents thousands of dollars.

Conversely, for some seniors, the project that they choose — such as assisting a physician — affirms for them their passion for a career in medicine and they are eager to begin college.

“The senior project program is a win-win for Laguna Blanca as well,” McHale said. “We hear countless compliments from the companies and professionals with whom our seniors work attesting to the quality, character and intelligence of our students.”

Many seniors are offered paid summer internships as a result of their senior projects.

Students sometimes travel outside the United States to complete their projects. This year, a senior traveled to Guatemala to work with world-renowned anthropologists investigating the Mayan prophecy of 2012, specifically to separate fact from fiction concerning theories about the end of the world.

“Ultimately, this was a valuable lesson in cross-culture differences and learning to accept and appreciate others and their way of life,” the student wrote. “My senior project was an eye-opening experience. I learned to dig below the surface of popularity to find the truth. I also learned about the culture of the Mayan people, who have very few material possessions, yet have a rich spiritual life. On the other hand, we have so much and are lacking spiritually. This contrast is invaluable to me, because it helps me see what is important. Therefore, the decisions I make about my own life are informed by a larger experience.”

Seniors are graded by a senior project committee that takes into consideration the student’s participation in all senior project activities, all assigned work completed and the quality of all work produced for the project, including a senior paper and a presentation.

A Senior Project Award for the best project is announced each year at commencement. This year, the award was presented to Kevin Lunn, a student who returned to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse where he already had spent time representing Laguna Blanca in its Mock Trial program. He worked alongside a Santa Barbara senior probation officer and was advised by a chief investigator for the district attorney’s office.

“By the end of my project, I came to the conclusion that there is no single entity that is in the best position to evaluate a defendant,” Lunn said. “The beauty of our justice system lies in the fact that it takes multiple parties working together to find the punishment which best serves the needs of the community and the character of the accused. Like a system of checks and balances, it protects from excessively harsh or lenient sentences that otherwise might be reached. And to live in a community with this system in place, I am truly grateful.”

A sampling of other 2009 senior projects: All About Screen Writing, Clinical Trials Project, Seattle Mariners, Inside Fashion Design, Experience with Medicine, Music Industry Public Relations, Internship at Fox Films, Shadowing an Entrepreneur, Contemporary Chinese Culture, Food Styling & Advertising, SB Rape Crisis Center, Impact of River Restoration, and Catalina Island Conservancy.

— Tara Broucqsault is Laguna Blanca School’s communications director, and Trish McHale is its director of the senior project program.

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