CHITTENDEN SOUTH From sheep herd management to learning how to play the ukulele, beekeeping to bikram yoga. One might think that these topics, among a six-page list of many other varied subjects, could be one eccentric persons list of goals for a very full lifetime. On the contrary this is just a sampling of the topics chosen by Champlain Valley Union High School seniors for their Graduation Challenge projects this year. While many students are enjoying a week off, many seniors are scrambling to finish a first draft of their grad challenge paper over the break, due March 7. Every year at CVU, each senior decides on a project of his or her own design that they will complete throughout the year, consisting of hours of community learning, working with a community consultant who is an expert in a particular field of interest, a tangible product (optional), a research paper, and finally a presentation. The Tri-search paper combines research, interviews, and the students personal experience into a culminating document of the project. The grad challenge is an additional requirement for each senior who hopes to walk across the stage in cap and gown at the end of the year, and several students said it seemed like a lot to take on in the midst of regular classes, college applications, sports and other extracurriculars, and dont forget a social life. However, each of the five seniors who spoke with the South County Sentinel said it has been a good experience--although they each still had to write their paper. Sadie Stone, of Charlotte, worked with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, volunteered with a family, and studied about issues in Sub-Saharan Africa for her project. She said the crucial part about grad challenge is to pick something thats a good match. Its beneficial to choose a topic that never gets boring. As a sheltered Vermont girl, Sadie said the experience of working with a family of refugees opened her eyes to a different kind of living, and also said the project gave her an opportunity to learn about something she hopes she will always be involved with. Jason Brown, of Shelburne, learned how to make Adirondack chairs for his project, and ended up with a tangible product he can take with him from the experience-- two Adirondack chairs. Jason said that when choosing his grad challenge project, he made a list of all the things he wanted to do, and chose the project because he knew of a good community consultant he wanted to work with. Because he put in many community learning hours (45), his paper is allowed to be shorter (6 pages). Although he said doing wood-working will not necessarily affect his career choice, he is interested in keeping it as a hobby later on. He said the experience was better than what he expected, and did not looking forward to the extra work at the onset. Now with his second Adirondack chair nearly complete and his paper still to work on, Brown said, It was a worthwhile experience. Its nice to get to decide what you want to learn. Jason said he plans to attend Wentworth Institute of Technology and is thinking of mechanical engineering for a major. Ian Dudley, also of Shelburne, learned how to play the bass guitar. His Graduation Challenge project, entitled, Learning how to groove, taught him techniques and how to interact with other instruments. Dudley, who already plays the piano, writes music, and plays in a band, said he plans to play music in the future. It gave me a new outlook on how to approach music, he said of his grad challenge. Tommy Ngan, of Williston, also embarked on a creative project, and is looking to publish a book of chinese folk tales he wrote. Tommy, who said he already has done a lot of creative writing on his own, said that grad challenge was a great way to begin the process and learn about publishing. Its not as scary as people think. He said he was told that publishers give out mostly maybes, and rarely yess. He is working with Williamson Publishing in Charlotte for his project. While he said he has always been interested in writing, he said of grad challenge, It takes away from your free time. Finding something I was really enthusiastic about really helped me. Although some students may find out what theyre interested in doing for a career as a result of Graduation Challenge, some students may just find out the opposite. This was the case of Rory McGarghan, from Charlotte, who explored the world of the Police Academy for his grad challenge. While both of his parents work at the Burlington Police Department, Rory said, My parents say I can do anything in the world except be a police officer. After talking with an FBI U.S. Marshall, meeting a representative from Operation Lifesaver, and spending time at the Vermont Police Academy, Rory agrees. He said, I realized that no, I cant be a police officer. The physical piece of the equation is extremely demanding, which is why he said hed be more suited to be a lawyer. Aside from the paper, he said that grad challenge is a great idea to get get involved with something youre interested in and snowballs into a project of your own. He suggested taking away the paper and instead having students write a reflection on their experience. Mary Anne Gatos, Community Learning Coordinator at CVU, said she loves the program because it presents an opportunity for students to self-design a learning project that might not otherwise fit into their academics, or may stretch them in some other way. You have to craft a question about what you want to learn. She added that underclassmen at CVU already talk about grad challenge, Its woven into their awareness. The first draft of the Tri-search paper is due March 7, and after feedback from their advisors, students will hand in a final version on April 13. All seniors will give a presentation of their Graduation Challenge on May 18. Community panelists will be needed for Presentation Day, and anyone interested is urged to contact Mary Anne Gatos at 482-7195.