Senior year. It conjures memories of laborious college applications and late-night parties with the excitement of graduation just around the corner. At Lakeside High School, senior year also reminds students that the senior-project deadline is fast approaching.
The senior project, required by all Columbia County high schools, is "a culminating assignment in preparation for college." In theory and in policy, the project has students use skills they have acquired throughout high school. It's supposed to help them make career choices and learn to plan and organize.
What does this senior project entail?
In August, seniors select a topic for the yearlong endeavor. Each senior must interview an expert on the topic, then write a research paper that must be at least five pages long.
During the spring semester, the senior must create a product related to the topic. In April, projects are presented to boards of community members who judge the performance. The project counts as 25 percent of a student's literature class grade.
Lakeside seniors have been doing projects since 2002. Program coordinators say it's been a success and that only a few seniors refuse to apply themselves or spend their time productively.
Be that true or not, many seniors at Lakeside High have their criticisms of the project.
"More time is spent doing (administrative) stuff than learning about the topic. It comes down to being graded on whether you can turn something in on time," says Sarah Caruana, 17, who is doing her project on abstract expressionism.
Senior Alex Fain, 17, said he is interested in his topic, anesthesiology, but he thinks the project is "very time-consuming" during a year he has found to be his toughest.
Like Alex, some seniors say they would rather have done the project during another year of high school because, with college applications and jobs, it just puts something else on their plates.
"I would say that sophomore or junior year would be better because you're not as busy those years so you'd have more time to spend on it," said Amanda Wade, 17, whose topic is physical therapy.
Dr. Rose Carraway, the director of high school student learning for Columbia County, said having the test in earlier grades wouldn't be the best idea.
"Shouldn't seniors represent the most skilled and educated students in the high school?" she asked. "To have senior project at any other level would require students to use skills which they have not been taught."
Even with its drawbacks, many students do not think the project is entirely a bad idea.
"I like the idea of the product because it's the first time in our lives that we make something instead of just writing another paper," said Todd Garcia, 17, whose project is about law enforcement.
Jeanna Tuten, 17, whose topic is wedding traditions, has enjoyed the experience.
"I love my product," she said. "I think the product is the good part because we get to be really creative. But with deadlines coming up, we're rushed. We need more time for other classes."
Jeanna's not the only one to see both the good and the bad of the project. Sarah does, too.
"While individual aspects of the project are annoying, the senior project is something to do on a large scale for a whole year, so it really makes you follow through," she said. "It's more real-life."
Katharine Diehl, 18, is a senior at Lakeside High School.