Tenth-graders explore passions with personal project

Southwest High School 10th-graders Ben Peterson, Hema Patel and Mark Pekala (from left to right) show off their personal projects they created as part of the school's Middle Years Programme. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Training for a marathon, building an electric guitar and choreographing a musical don’t have a lot in common — unless you’re a 10th-grader at Southwest High School.

The three activities were among those students chose this year for their personal projects, a required component of the school’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.

The students picked a topic of their choice, researched it and create a product or an outcome, such as hosting an event or starting a club. The experience has helped students explore their own identities and develop skills in research, communication and self-management, according to Holli Hoffman, Southwest’s MYP Coordinator.

“Every year the projects are so unique, which is a reflection of the students,” she said. “It just depends on the angle the students want to take.”

Eight schools in the Minneapolis district offer the Middle Years Programme, according to Edison High School MYP Coordinator Sharon Cormany. The program has teachers take their local curriculum and put it in a global context, helping address the relevance of the curriculum in the world and in students’ lives she said.

“It’s meant to help students develop inquiry skills, be intentionally minded (and) see connections between different disciplines,” she said.

All ninth- and 10th-graders at Edison participate in the program, as do all ninth- and 10th-graders at Southwest. Many students go on to take IB or Advanced Placement classes, and about 20 at each school are attempting this year to complete an IB diploma, the highest level of involvement a student can have.

The personal project is the capstone of the Middle Years Programme. The students pick a topic in which they are interested and develop a project based on that interest. They are required to keep a process journal and write a report about what they learned after completing the project.

“They really develop some project management skills, which is something not a lot of 10th-graders necessarily have,” Cormany said. “… I think a lot of them really just get a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

The project not only came with that sense of pride for Southwest’s Mark Pekala. It also came with a medal, thanks to the Twin Cities Marathon.

The 10th-grader completed the race in three hours and 49 minutes this past October, after creating a training plan and executing it over the summer and fall. Pekala’s plan included everything from mileage for specific days to specific meals for before and after workouts.

He said it was a challenge to find the time to train once school started in the fall but that training before school gave him more energy.

Southwest 10th-grader Ben Peterson built his own electric guitar for his project. Peterson built the guitar body, soldered the wires together and sanded and polished it into a completed product. He said a challenge was being okay with the guitar’s imperfections, adding that he wanted it to be perfect the first time.

Student Hema Patel said she developed more courage through her project, choreographing the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at a Minneapolis church. Patel, who has been dancing since she was young, said it was interesting to see how the musical brought people together, noting that she doesn’t practice the same faith as the members of the church.

“They were just really open and welcoming,” she said.

For Edison 10th-grader Aidan Stromdahl, there was never much question on what he could do his project. Stromdahl, who has been a DJ since his earliest years, spent an afternoon in February spinning records at Parkway Pizza in Northeast, creating fliers to market the event and advertising it on the school announcements.

Stromdahl, who goes by the name DJ FunSize, played music for a crowd that included dozens of friends and family and several Edison High School staff. He appeared pleased with how the event went, noting that the restaurant reported better-than-expected sales for a Saturday afternoon.

“Everybody loved it,” he said.

Aidan Stromdahl shows off his personal project March 16 at Edison High School. The 10th-grader, who goes by the name DJ FunSize, spun records in February for his project. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Aidan Stromdahl shows off his personal project March 16 at Edison High School. The 10th-grader, who goes by the name DJ FunSize, spun records in February for his project. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Stromdahl’s project advisor, Edison teacher Aberdeen Rodriguez, said the project is the first true test of academic autonomy for the students. She said Stromdahl deepened his confidence and learned how to connect with the community more by undertaking his project.

“Aiden’s just really one of those likeable kids,” Rodriguez said. “He’s such a likeable, fun student to be around that everyone’s really drawn to him and was happy to support him in the event.”

Edison hosted a personal project showcase for the 10th-graders to show off their projects earlier this month. Southwest plans to do the same, Hoffman said.