In Barrington, Senior Projects ‘can be life-changing’

Wide-ranging projects culminate in recent presentations

By Josh Bickford
Posted 3/29/23

The small cafeteria is filled with well-dressed students, a therapy dog, and a feeling of nervous excitement.

There is also a table covered with all sorts of snacks.

The small cafeteria has …

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In Barrington, Senior Projects ‘can be life-changing’

Wide-ranging projects culminate in recent presentations


The small cafeteria is filled with well-dressed students, a therapy dog, and a feeling of nervous excitement.

There is also a table covered with all sorts of snacks.

The small cafeteria has been transformed into the “de-stress lounge” and it is part of the Barrington High School Senior Project presentation day event. On Monday, March 13, members of the Class of 2023 reached the finish line with their nearly year-long Senior Project experience. 

“This is the culminating phase of the project,” said Barrington High School teacher and Senior Project Coordinator Stephen Lenz. 

The work began last June when the students pitched their Senior Project ideas to faculty members. 

“That’s something we added a couple years ago. So, students get up there and they give a one- to two-minute elevator pitch,” Lenz said. “That’s something we use to develop a different skill. It’s kind of like a ‘Shark Tank’ thing.”

The panel of judges offer students some feedback and fine-tune their senior project ideas. 

“They act almost in a mentorship-like role,” Lenz said. 

The June project pitch date affords students an opportunity to begin their field work during the summer months. That’s a shift from the earlier approach, which had the project beginning in September of the students’ senior year. 

“Now they start the process as juniors,” Lenz said. “It allows them to get that 20 hours (of field work) done with a mentor over the summer, if they wish.”

The students must complete other tasks along the way, including a five- to seven-page term paper. But the largest challenge is the final presentations. Most of the district shuts down for the day, and teachers from other schools serve as panel judges. They arrive early at the high school, sit for a training session and then disperse to dozens of classrooms throughout the school. The students have been assigned different panel times, from 9 to 11:15 a.m. 

“Every 25 minutes we have 50 new kids coming in,” Lenz said. 

The students gather in the “de-stress lounge” — they are dressed up and some are carrying posterboard displays or rolled up artwork or other visual aids. 

There are tables covered with bagels and granola bars and muffins and drinks, but not many of the students are eating. They are nervous as the minutes count down to their presentations. 

“They can mingle with each other before they present,” Lenz said. “There’s some food over here. There’s a therapy dog… some music playing.”

Two school counselors gather the students moments before they head to their classrooms and share a positive affirmation with them: Some deep breaths and strong, loud statements that they will all do well.

The students begin to smile, then they quickly exit the cafeteria and spread out across the school. 

“This is the second year we’ve done this,” Lenz said, referring to the “de-stress lounge.” “It’s been great. We’d like to make it bigger over time.”

Lenz said there is just one student per classroom for the presentations. For eight to 10 minutes, the seniors talk. Then there is a question and answer period. Then they wait outside the room while the judges talk.

“They come back in and get their results,” Lenz said. 

Most students will pass, but there are supports in place for those who need to present additional times. 

“They can present as many times as they need to meet the standard,” Lenz said. 

What they choose

Sofia DeFanti knew exactly what she wanted to do for her Senior Project. The Barrington High School student has an interest in social work and also loves to ride horses. 

“I volunteered at a therapeutic school and I helped run their equine therapy program,” she said. 

DeFanti said it is important for students to select a Senior Project with their own interests in mind. Lenz said projects usually fall into one of three categories.

“Usually they choose something that’s a hobby that they’ve never been able to pursue because of lack of time,” he said. “We have students who pick something that is more in terms of what they may want to focus on in college or a profession … A third one is philanthropic — them giving back to the community.”

That was the focus for Harrison Cooley and Ryan O’Connell. The two BHS seniors helped organize a free flag football tournament on Super Bowl Sunday. The event drew nearly 150 boys and girls from Barrington and surrounding communities. O’Connell and Cooley recruited their teammates from the high school football team to help referee games and coach teams. 

Cooley and O’Connell even purchased boxes of doughnuts to award to the winning flag football teams.

Will Hopkins was the placekicker for the BHS football team, so when it came time to complete his Senior Project, Hopkins decided to organize a football kicking clinic for area youngsters. Dozens attended the free clinic at Victory Field — Hopkins taught the kids how to punt, kick off, and kick field goals. Hopkins held special contests during the clinic and awarded prizes.

Amirah Woodruff used her Senior Project to learn more about journalism. She planned out coverage for a local media company, researched and wrote articles, and eventually got to see her name in print. Woodruff is hoping to buoy the project into a future internship. 

Luke Bavier helped coach a Barrington Pop Warner youth football team. Bavier, who played wide receiver for the BHS football team, used the opportunity to share skills and techniques he learned with the younger Pop Warner players.

Lenz said students are given the opportunity to thrive in their own independence. 

“Most of their curricular decisions are made for them. They do have choice in terms of classes, but with this … they have a lot of freedom to act independently as young adults to meet the standard,” he said.

Sigh of relief 

Julie El-Diery stood inside the “de-stress lounge” with some of her friends just a few minutes after they finished — and passed — their Senior Project presentations. 

For her project, El-Diery taught Latin to other students. The BHS senior said she worked very hard preparing for the presentation, but was still a bit nervous as she made her way to school that morning.

“The affirmations were actually quite helpful despite how cheesy they were,” El-Diery said. “It helped ease the nerves a little bit. And then I went in. I knew one of the teachers (on the panel), which was nice. They were very nice.”

El-Diery said her presentation went well and she was very relieved when the panel shared the good news: She passed. 

“For the past week, we’ve all been on-edge,” she said. 

El-Diery said she spent the night before the presentations practicing with other students. Grace Angert said she also spent a lot of time practicing her presentation — “about a million times” on Sunday.

“I’m not really much of a public speaker, so I was really nervous about it,” said Angert, whose project focused on getting discounted dance lessons for area Foster children. “Once I was in the room I was panicking.”

Angert said she settled down after she started talking, and despite the anxiety and build-up for the presentation, she believes the experience will be beneficial. 

“I think this will help me down the road because of what project I chose. It taught me a lot about communication and how to communicate with other people when I’m asking them for something,” she said. 

“It made me feel good because I knew I was doing something good for Foster kids, which is what I really wanted to do since I’ve known so many of them.”

Dinis Carpin said his Senior Project afforded him an opportunity to do something he had never expected: He lived with his mentor in Spain last summer. 

“It was awesome. I was visiting my family (in Italy) over the summer. I flew over to Spain. I stayed with him … and that eventually culminated into this theme of art therapy,” he said. 

Carpin said that in addition to learning more about art and art therapy, the Senior Project also helped him improve his public speaking. 

“This was really important, it was huge,” he said. “It was in front of a panel. We’ve had weeks to work on it. It involves more than just presenting a slide show. It’s very involved.

“Of course I felt nervous, but I think I was prepared.”

Carpin and other students said it is important to find the right focus for a Senior Project.

“If you let it, this project can be life-changing,” Carpin said. 

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.