On Campus

Faculty and students reflect on changes to junior projects’ timing

By Rachel Talamo ’14

The timing of the two major eleventh grade projects, the Junior History Research Paper and the Junior Profile, was altered for this year’s History and English curricula. The History Paper, which was previously in the spring, became an eight-week project that began in January and ended on February 28th, the week before March break. The Junior Profile, which took place during last year’s winter term, was moved to the six weeks following March break and was due on May 4th, immediately preceding Advanced Placement (AP) exams and SATs.

History Department Head Gustavo Carrera says, “The decision originated with Upper School Director Geoffrey Theobald, who was trying to look out for student stress levels. [The scheduling of these two projects] is entirely based on student pressures, student needs, and [our responses].”
“Realistically, the paper needs eight weeks,” adds Mr. Carrera. “The profile project is shorter. It only needs six weeks, so it is better accommodated to the spring.”

Logistically, though, this setup adjusted more than deadlines. According to English Department Head Sharon Krauss, the commencement of AP week right after the Profile provided one hurdle the department had to work around. “Rearranging the English 11 curriculum to facilitate the [Profile and History Paper] switch was challenging for several of us who found it difficult to do AP preparation and the Profile simultaneously,” she says.

According to Khatidja Karimi ’13, students blocked out their schedules to thoroughly interview and observe their profile subjects, and this left little time to study for APs. She says, “Because the profile was worth so much, I felt like I had to sacrifice APs for it.”

Ms. Krauss also noticed the time crunch at the beginning of the project: “Students [going into the profile] from a cold start after March break was a concern for the faculty. Break is for break, so even though we had to introduce the Profile before March break, we emphasized that we didn’t want students to work on the project over break,” she says. “But that meant that after the break, we started with a scramble to get their subjects nailed down very quickly. We used to have a well-placed long weekend in February that really helped students interview their subjects, so we felt the lack of that this year.”

Catherine Hanss ’13 agrees that finding a subject in time was difficult this year. “The first week after March break, I found a Profile subject who ended up falling through, and by the time I got another one, it was already two weeks into the project.”

Khatidja also found that there was too little time allotted to the start of the Profile. “I’m glad there was no overlap with the two projects, but we should have been able to start the profile during Spring Break. Two weeks just didn’t feel like enough to interview and observe,” she says.

According to Ms. Krauss, the new system not only pushes the Profile dangerously close to the end of the year, but also puts a strain on the project’s grading process. “Our other big concern is doing justice to grading profiles in the time left in the school year after they’re due,” she says.

Within this process, for a Profile to receive an A, two teachers have to sign off on the grade. “Because of the cross-breeding of Profiles, evaluating them is an especially time-consuming job,” says Ms. Krauss.

Yet, according to History teacher Louise Makrauer, the Junior History Paper is no small feat either. “Last year’s juniors felt that the History Paper was too long a project for the spring,” she says. “Students had felt rushed. There is admittedly a lot going on junior spring with SATs and APs.”

Anthony Fiandaca ’12, who experienced last year’s configuration of the two projects, agrees with Ms. Makrauer. “A lot of people felt pressed for time during the History Paper, partially because of junior spring, but especially because we felt that we weren’t given enough time,” he says.

Ms. Krauss concurs that any major project adds to the relentlessness of junior spring. “Having completed the History Paper added to this year’s juniors’ fatigue factor, [as did] the APs and SATs approaching and the added demands of all of their other courses,” she says. “But I bet the same was true when the projects’ order was reversed. Last year, the completion of the Profile probably made the spring History Paper more tiring for students as well. ”

Anthony, though, finds that this year’s organization has improved upon last year’s. He says, “The 2012 set-up is probably better than what we had because, for me, the Junior History Paper was a much more challenging project, so having it at a less stressful time would have been helpful. That being said, it’s never going to be perfect.”

Catherine found this year’s History Paper and Profile placement beneficial for a different reason. “The structure of writing a 10-page long paper on your own time before the Profile was great, because [the Profile] just added another element. It was nice to have a paper that challenged you with the act of writing a paper itself before you had a paper that added extra creative elements,” she says.

Mr. Carrera corroborates that the timing of this year’s History Paper was superior to previous years’. “According to my student evaluations, 85% of my 26 students said that the timing of the history paper was appropriate,” he says.

He also feels that reducing the students’ has enhanced the quality of the History Paper. “One of the outside readers for the Junior History Paper prize even feels that the papers she’s seen this year are much stronger than those she’s seen in previous years,” he says.

Despite his positive outlook on this year’s arrangement, Mr. Carrera emphasizes his flexibility in rescheduling. “I feel that this is the appropriate placement of the History Paper. If the opportunity presented itself to move it to another time later in the year, we should of course consider it if it weren’t to create more student stress,” he says. “We are really willing to work to provide the best possible experience for our students.”

Ms. Krauss agrees that these projects revolve around student needs. “The idea is to create two well-run, fulfilling projects for juniors,” she says. “I’m hopeful that, if the History Paper and the Profile project are both well-organized events, the work won’t seem so onerous because it will be spread out, and the process will be well-guided by the teachers.”

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