PAA’s Senior Project Builds Skills for 21st Century

August 21, 2014 | Liesl Vistaunet

Portland Adventist Academy’s (PAA) senior project challenges seniors to use interests like beekeeping and music-writing to develop skills that will serve the 21st century.

“The senior project is an interdisciplinary project and the capstone of a student’s four years of high school,” says Joan Oksenholt, senior project course creator.

After a semester or more of research, planning, implementing plans, writing a research paper and more, every PAA senior presents a final project to a panel of teachers. It is rare to receive a perfect score.

“We saw outstanding projects this past school year,” says Oksenholt.

An outstanding project is more than just a good research paper and presentation. It’s demonstrating a disciplined pursuit of knowledge and understanding of a subject. It comes from patience, discipline, time-management and detailed planning.

One example of such discipline is Jens Nerness, who became a beekeeper. He saw the senior project as an opportunity to pursue his interest in self-sufficiency and survival after natural disasters. Honeybees are a source of food and can be raised in backyards. Nerness learned all he could before he tackled the work of building a hive and colony. His bees will begin producing honey within the year.

Passion, creativity and the pursuit of curiosity are important for a successful project.

An example of outstanding creativity is Will Johnson’s full-length science fiction music album. Johnson spent more than 400 hours on his project over a span of nearly two years. He wrote all of the music, including lyrics and music scores for his panelists, recorded the album in the PAA music studio using professional equipment, and mixed and mastered the album.

“This experience was a long journey of personal discovery,” says Johnson. “I found out just how creative I can be when I try. I probably could have cut this project a lot shorter, but it never made sense to stop.”

Attitudes and passion like Johnson’s are what PAA teachers hope students will carry with them into the world. “We are training students now for careers that haven’t even been developed yet,” says Oksenholt. “The senior project gives them skill sets that they will continue to use to help change the 21st-century world.”