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senior-projectsLast week, Class I students began their long-awaited “Senior Project”—a Milton tradition dating back to the 1960s. Senior Projects have evolved over the decades, but the premise remains the same: For one month, students can choose to swap class time for a full-time commitment to a personal passion and a project of their own design. The projects that seniors undertake today fit within four categories: scholarly or academic; community engagement; internship; and the arts. Over the winter, interested students flesh out their ideas and plans; recruit a member of the faculty or staff as a project advisor; and submit their proposals to a committee of faculty who determine whether the project meets certain criteria for approval, or needs amendment. The faculty committee looks at the size of the group, how the students plan to divide the work, how many hours each week they’re likely to spend on their plan, and why they’re interested in this particular project. A full project requires 40 hours per week. Many students fulfill their project requirements through two half projects, committing 20 hours per week to each. Faculty and staff sponsors meet with students on campus at least once per week to check in on progress, or discuss any challenges that arise.

Jackie Bonenfant, Milton’s academic dean, oversees Senior Projects. Over the years, she says, students surprise themselves by what they learn; how invested they become; how much work their plan demands of them; and how rewarding the experience can be.

“Senior Project is an opportunity for students to think about what they love doing,” says Jackie. “It’s all self-directed, from identifying what they want to focus on, to designing and executing a project. No one is telling them what to do or how to do it. They have to hold themselves accountable for their work and their time. And the result of all that work and commitment can be wildly successful.”

The Senior Project Fair—which launched in 2016—is a visible culmination and celebration of what students have learned, created or achieved during their projects. Students from all grades, faculty and staff, family and friends come out to support the seniors, and to learn something new. This year’s Senior Project Fair will be held on campus on Wednesday, June 7.

Students in the Class of 2017 chose topics that range from Alzheimer’s research to the global distribution of wealth; from synesthesia to outdoor survival tactics; from hip hop music to surf culture; from computer programming to volunteering at a local zoo. Students will paint, garden, sew, cook, prepare concerts and recitals, shadow doctors, write and direct plays, learn instruments and languages, and volunteer at a range of sites. Sophia Greenaway will be creating a Student Advisory Committee at the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority. Stephen O’Connor and Matt Tabor will build a to-scale version of Fenway Park on campus with plans to host a Wiffle Ball tournament, the proceeds of which will go to a children’s cancer research organization.