Real life lessons | SierraSun.com

Real life lessons

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Sky diving and scuba diving aren’t usually topics covered in high school English classes, but this week at North Tahoe High School is a little different.

Senior projects, hands-on research projects developed by students, are being presented in classrooms this week. And for most students, topics don’t include Shakespeare, global warming or the American Revolution. Instead, seniors were given the opportunity to select any topic under the sun, research it, write a massive paper about it, and then go out and do it.

“I encourage my students to do the one thing they want to do before they die,” said North Tahoe English teacher Bridget Paul. “It starts in January as a New Year’s resolution, and I always do a senior project as well because I learn something too.”

Some of her students took that recommendation quite literally by choosing topics such as teaching elementary students and scuba diving. One student even wrote a book.

To supplement the activity, students research a number of related aspects, such as the science, philosophy, history and social impacts related to their topic and write one last research paper.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie and I needed something new and exciting to do,” said senior Chris Brixey, who went sky diving for his project.

As part of the research portion of his assignment, Brixey looked into the modern day uses of sky diving and parachuting.

Other students quite literally kept their feet on the ground by learning how to dance, including senior Sheahan Oliver, who took up Irish step dancing and learned that the art form was once used to transmit Morse code.

“It was something I never would have done,” Oliver said. “It was a thrill ” a rush.”

Another senior girl, who had never sewn a stitch according to Paul, made her entire senior prom dress and designed shoes and a matching shawl to go with it.

The most rewarding projects, Paul said, are the ones produced by students who struggle in the classroom but excel when given real-life challenges.

One such student built an entire electric guitar from scratch. Another, who was going to remain living in his parents’ home while attending college, built himself an entire addition to the house, Paul said.

“Instead of it just being a learning experience, it was more a of a physical experience and a realization that there is more going on in the world,” Brixey said. “It opened my mind to something new.”