It’s that time of year once again.  We embrace warmer days as Spring makes its way into Summer.  Along with the change in weather comes the inevitable end of the school year and for the High School Senior, the push toward their diploma.

There are the usual traditions:  Work and preparation for life after high school, that last school dance, the signing of year books, caps and gowns, graduation ceremonies and family gatherings.

Wendy Willoughby
Wendy Willoughby

Yet for many in our community, these milestone weeks pass by without much notice.  We may see kids in fancy attire out on the town or hear a conversation about upcoming grad events, but mostly, it has not to do with us.  There is, however, one tradition that community members can engage in and I strongly encourage you to participate.

It is a rite of passage for our graduates, indeed, and a requirement to receive that diploma. The Senior Project Presentation.

This program asks seniors to explore a possible career(s).  They are given specific guidelines and tasks to complete – including an annotated research paper, a mentorship where they must interview and often job shadow, and the culminating piece – the Senior Project Presentation. Yet, even with the same guidelines, each and every project is as unique and as different as each student.

I was invited this year to participate as a panelist.  An afternoon spent in South County at Bear River and another two on Ridge Road at Nevada Union.

I was not sure what to expect going in…but even before we began, it was delightful to witness the students supporting each other, sharing words of encouragement, hugs here and there, and to see their excited teachers who had guided them, gently pushing them to the finish line. Then once complete, to watch those teachers’ hearts swell with pride as their students shared the experience afterwards.  

I believe most of us agree that, in the broadest sense, we expect our public schools will educate and prepare our children to become contributing members of society.  We want to know that they are ready to embark on that next step in becoming adults; whether it is to continue onto higher education or a vocational school or perhaps directly enter the workforce.  I was hoping I might get a glimpse of this in the students as I watched them deliver.  The 15 presentations I experienced did not disappoint!

It was evident that for the entire school year the seniors in Nevada County were working hard to share their readiness for that next step and the lessons they will take with them.

Here’s a brief list of what I saw:

  • Students developing a plan and learning how to research – ✓
  • Students, for better or worse, learning to manage time – ✓
  • Students having to persevere when it was challenging, be creative, think critically and follow directions – ✓, ✓, ✓ and ✓

These students learned how to interact with adults, interview and ask questions; they explored ideas, experiencing first-hand what a particular job or career might look and feel like. They were asked to think deeply about those experiences and many had to overcome anxiety and do what seemed overwhelmingly hard – public speaking. Life skills indeed!

In recent years, through the pandemic and beyond, we have been asked to pay more attention – with or without children currently in our education system – to what is happening in our schools. 

If you are looking to have a genuine understanding of what our schools and teachers accomplish, what they are doing to help prepare our kids for their future, or you just want to be inspired by our young people – their work, perseverance and plans for what comes next… be ready to volunteer as a community panelist next May… right when Spring turns into Summer… the Seniors will be ready!

Wendy Willoughby is a mom, a community member and a Trustee for the Nevada Joint Union High School District.