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Senior projects introduce Bow students to their future career fields

Derek Gallagher, a senior at Bow High School, has been building a rectangular gazebo outside The Friendly Kitchen in Concord for his senior project. He was putting finishing touches on his project on Wednesday afternoon, October 30, 2013.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Derek Gallagher, a senior at Bow High School, has been building a rectangular gazebo outside The Friendly Kitchen in Concord for his senior project. He was putting finishing touches on his project on Wednesday afternoon, October 30, 2013. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Becky Cole is meant for the stage.

When she talks about how she wants to work in theater, she speaks with the articulation of an actress and the self-confidence of a performer.

So when she needed an idea for Bow High School’s requirement for an intensive senior project, she knew exactly what to do.

“What I did for my project was I put on a summer theater camp,” Cole said. “I picked a show and sent out flyers and got about 15 kids, and we did a one-week camp where I taught them about theater and acting and singing and dancing. We put on a version of Seussical, the musical.”

Cole and the other 140 seniors at Bow are months away from graduation, from walking across that stage and on to the next part of their lives.

But the soon-to-be graduates have to complete one final task before they hold that diploma: their senior projects, which require them to serve their community in some way before they leave it. For many of those seniors, including Cole, the project becomes a chance to dip into their career path of choice before walking further in that direction.

“I’m going into musical theater,” Cole said firmly. “It’s my passion. And they say that the best projects come out from choosing a topic that you’re really passionate about.”

Dean of Humanities Jackie Coe said every senior class at Bow is required to complete at least 35 hours of work on their project. They’ll complete research on a larger issue related to their project, conduct a face-to-face interview with a professional in their field and complete community service as part of the semester-long seminar.

“They can build on something they’ve been doing before, but they have to challenge themselves beyond their comfortable limits,” Coe said.

The most difficult part, Coe said, is getting started. Picking up the phone to make that first phone call may be daunting for her students, but she said she sees them develop confidence that will serve them beyond their projects.

“I think for students there are some real-life skills that happen through this project,” Coe said.

This fall, as senior Derek Gallagher was thinking about his application for a college program in construction management, he was also filling out an application for a building permit. For his senior project, Gallagher built a large rectangular gazebo outside the Friendly Kitchen in Concord.

As he prepared to complete the project last week, Gallagher pointed to the foundation he dug himself and the roof that just needed a few more shingles along its peak.

“They were looking for something (outside) for the people that come over here,” he said outside the Friendly Kitchen. “Just to hang out, just a roof over their heads.”

For Gallagher, obtaining permits and designing the 8-by-12 gazebo was more challenging than he expected. But after more than 150 hours of work, he said he is more sure than ever that construction is where he wants to be.

“I just love the entire process of building something from start to finish and, you know, the entire thing of saying, ‘I built this,’ ” Gallagher said. “It feels really good.”

Senior Matt Neal’s project could also contribute to his college applications – he wants to study video game development, and he’s designing his own basic 2-D video game for his senior project.

He attended a camp at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., last summer, he said, which gave him some of the foundation to design his game and motivated him to continue with design.

“I think my overall interest is what’s driven me to do something like this, and I definitely think doing the video game for my senior project when I’m going to be applying for college for video game development is a huge bonus,” Neal said.

He’ll be opening the three-level game up to testers from the school soon, he said. And he’ll be gaining more and more experience in a pool of college applications where he wants to stand apart.

“I’m showing these colleges that I’m not like the standard kid that’s saying, ‘I play video games, so I can make video games,’ ” he said. “I already know there is work involved. I already know a lot about what goes into making a video game. I already can show I can make basic video games. I think doing the senior project has put me ahead of the crowd.”

For Jacob Dratner, his senior project has been a chance to sort through what he does – and doesn’t – want to do in the future. He’s considering studying environmental science, biomedical science or journalism, so he is building a seating area near the football field and researching the way the wetlands around Bow influence construction and building projects.

He’s still not sure where his major will take him, he said. But when he spoke about his research, Dratner’s voice became a little awestruck, obviously interested in the conclusions of his research about the wetlands in his town.

“I found out over time that (wetlands) are more beneficial for us, preventing flooding and making sure that endangered species don’t go extinct. . . . One big component of my research that I discovered was, we can always kind of build back wetlands,” Dratner said.

No matter where he goes from Bow or which major he chooses, Dratner said he wants his project to leave a mark on his community, one that he could come back to find years later.

“I really wanted to do something to leave a footprint on the school, something I can come back to and see that it’s there,” he said.

Dratner’s seating area will still be outside the football stadium after he graduates. Gallagher’s gazebo will stand outside the Friendly Kitchen. Cole’s camp will be hosted again this summer. Neal will continue to share his game with other students and build upon it.

So even as Cole and her classmates walk across that stage and on to the next part of their lives, they will leave behind relics to the goals that led their paths forward.

“My biggest goal was to leave Bow High School and know that my theater camp was still running after I started it,” Cole said. “So I can not just help those 15 kids who did it this year, but kids from now until whenever.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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