2010 Graduation Project Case Study

Career Cruising profile? Check. Thirty hours of community service? Check. Case study on the class of 2010? Check.

Four years ago, the counseling department at Penn Manor started a new graduation project that was aimed at preparing students for life after high school. The new project used an achievement goal theory to motivate students to complete the project.

The class of 2010 was the first one to complete this new project, and their progress was recorded and then documented in a case study completed by Sandra Deemer, an associate professor at Millersville, and Penn Manor’s own Melissa Ostrowski, high school counselor.

When the project was introduced, not every student was happy about it.

“When you change something like that, people go, ‘oh this is stupid!’” said Ostrowski.

Melissa Ostrowski, a counselor at Penn Manor. Photo by Whitney Reno

The graduation project was to help prepare students for life after high school by having them complete tasks related to their future.  The requirements can be reviewed at: http://blogs.pennmanor.net/graduationproject/class-of-2011/

One requirement for the project was to search for schools to further a student’s education. The project does not stress a four-year college over other types of higher education or a career.

“We just care that every student who goes to Penn Manor does something, or has a plan to be a productive member of society,” said Ostrowski.

On the other hand, “the class of 2010 had no one to compare to,” said Deemer.

She said when the class of 2010 were freshmen, they saw the older students doing things like redoing their bedroom as their graduation project, and were angry that they weren’t allowed to do something similar. But the change to the new project allowed every student to pick something different that related to their career and life after high school.

This project was another way to show that Penn Manor is unique because very few schools “represent a unification of career exploration activities with state-mandated graduation projects.”

In other words, the state mandates every high school have a graduation project and Penn Manor now has one connected to skills and exploration the students can use to enrich their future.

The project used achievement goal theory, a motivational theory that highlights the importance of individuals’ perceptions in the learning process and focusing on the influence of the student’s task.

The project was also to give a sense of belonging to students, as well as motivate them to take career-related classes.

“Kids who have a sense of belongingness, are usually more motivated,” said Ostrowski.

Ms. Deemer, a Ph.D at Millersville Photo By: Whitney Reno

“If you have a sense of beloningness, and you feel safe in school and you feel happy, then things tend to go a little smoother,” Deemer said.

This motivation could lead them to picking classes that will help them in their plans after high school, explained the researchers.  Instead of picking classes just to fill their schedule, students started to pick classes based on their career or life after high school in general.

But with new, big projects, there are bound to be problems.

Deemer conducted a series of small group talks and surveys of students in the class of 2010 to find out how they felt about the project and got suggestions on possible changes.

When the freshmen were first interviewed, they had mostly bad things to say and were generally upset about the new requirements, recalled Ostrowski.

“At first the freshmen hated it but we wanted them, and everyone else to know, that we’re not out to get anyone,” said Ostrowski.

During the interviews, Deemer found that students were engaging in  aspects of the graduation project.

Also, Deemer found that students were talking with others about career interests on their own as well as doing career research on their own.

Another case study will be conducted on the class of 2014 with the same project.

Even with the kinks, Deemer felt that the project was a “thoughtful group of educators responding to a state mandate to create a valuable project.”

By Whitney Reno