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By Santha Cassell, Senior Exhibition Teacher

Since its inception in 1996, Riverdale High School has been a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools and implemented practices with the Ten Common Principles in mind. The school’s mission is to “cultivate in students a passion for personal interests, a habit of critical thinking, and a deep understanding of civic virtue.” Teachers and students pursue this mission through classroom curriculum, but also through the school-wide activities that lead up to and produce the senior exhibition.

The senior exhibition has three parts: an in-depth research paper, service-learning project, and a public presentation. All of these elements are driven by the students’ essential questions. As students develop each component of the senior exhibition they benefit from thoughtful peer and teacher review.

The high standards we set for academic achievement we are now setting for civic engagement and service. Ninth graders begin by contacting outside organizations, planning projects, and creating campaigns of awareness around public service issues. Students at every grade level complete service-learning projects as part of classroom learning and participate in senior panels.

The senior exhibition process takes place over three trimesters during student’s senior year. During the fall trimester, students refine their research skills, frame their guiding essential questions for their paper, and develop a plan for a service-learning project that is derived from their question. They deepen their inquiry and their project design based on feedback they receive from their peers and teachers. During the second trimester, they deepen their inquiry and their project design based on feedback they receive from their peers and teachers, refine and complete their service-learning projects, and write the first draft of their research papers. The spring trimester focuses on the public exhibition of all elements accompanied by reflection and documentation.

Thinking critically and creatively—core values at Riverdale—are essential to the senior exhibition and to the preparatory work done at lower levels. Senior exhibition is a powerful opportunity for students to apply their thinking, research, and knowledge to a service-learning project, which makes a positive impact on their world.  
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