The Students Speak Out

Proposal To Delay Senior Month By One Year Passes In Plenary


Photo credit: Carter Wagner

Student Government President Carter Wagner introducing the Senior Month Resolution during Plenary. Photo courtesy of Carter Wagner.

“I have briefly spoken with Mr. Brandon and surveyed students about a new program I want to start called Senior Month, where for four weeks of May, seniors will participate in an internship or some other form of enrichment outside of school. Let’s have more ideas like that going forward.”

When former Student Government President Matthew Turk ‘20 wrote this in his platform to run for office, the concept of a month off of school for seniors to pursue passion projects was virtually unheard of to the general student body. The program had not been implemented at Parker before, at least not in the last decade. A year and a half later, roughly 300 students gathered together virtually to decide whether this pet project of Turk’s would be a reality for the Class of 2021.

After six weeks of Plenary meetings, Town Halls, and Senate conversations over Postmates meals, the student body overwhelmingly voted to postpone Senior Month for a year, which according to the proposal, would make the Class of 2022 the first to try out the alternative May schedule. The vote passed 204 to 18 and was the first proposal passed over Zoom in Student Government history, according to senior and Student Government President Carter Wagner. 

The first five Plenaries in Student Government of the 2020-2021 school year were dedicated entirely to discussing and voting on the Senior Month proposal, which Wagner and Executive Adviser, senior Ava Ori, ad decided on late in August. “When Carter and I had some of our first meetings with Ms. Barr, she brought up how Senior month was still being discussed with the faculty, and immediately, Carter and I were like, ‘what, what’s going on?’” Ori said. “When we first started hearing about this from Ms. Barr, we were so confused that it was still happening, that Carter and I wrote the proposal in August.”

Before introducing the proposals, Ori sent out Google Form surveys to the entire Upper School to gauge the level of interest in Senior Month for the 2020-2021 school year. One hundred and forty students responded, and of those responses, 56.5% were open to Senior Month over remote learning, 20.5% liked doing Senior Month over a hybrid schedule, and only 11.6% were interested in doing Senior Month over an in-person schedule.

“We’ve seen through the data that we’ve gathered through, like our Google surveys that Ava’s done a great job collecting, we saw it in our town hall with Mr. Brandon, we’ve seen it in virtually every discussion that has been held around Senior Month, that the seniors overwhelmingly hate it and the juniors and underclassmen either dislike it or believe it’s a senior-only matter and therefore vote with the senior perspective,” Wagner said. “So that’s not encompassing everyone. And there are exceptions.”

Upper School history teacher and Student Government Adviser Jeanne Barr, however, has been in favor of Senior Month during the discussions on its feasibility. “As a faculty member, I should tell you that I volunteered to be one of the Senior Month teachers. I specifically rewrote the course description for Talk of the Town to be seniors only because I didn’t want to have a class that would have juniors and seniors next spring and then not be able to work with the seniors. So, I would like to do it,” Barr said.

Despite her disagreement with the passing of the proposal, Barr is still happy with how the process went. “I think the process they went through between the original proposal and the way they reframed the draft was just really great, the way the authors of the proposal were very, very conscious of trying to incorporate feedback in two surveys and making infographics, really trying hard to represent,” Barr said. Ori and Wagner first introduced a version of the proposal to the student body, but after hearing several amendments and suggestions, created a new version to include all of the ideas they received.

Barr did have some issues with the way in which Senior Month was discussed in terms of its feasibility. “I guess the way this thing took shape this year that I think was just so problematic is that somehow it all got framed around internships, which I just think is such a ‘wow, that’s such a limited view of what a Senior Month project could be.’ And the notion that we need to shoehorn our students into the working world…what for?” Barr said. “So in terms of how my attitude has changed, I just wish that the student body weren’t so fixated on internships because I don’t think that is the idea.”

If Senior Month is implemented, seniors will propose their ideal passion project to the administration, including what the goal is, what they will be doing, and who they would like to do it with. If it passes, they are able to begin work on it in May, checking in with an assigned senior teacher every week to make sure they are doing their work. If a student is able to get an internship or wants to continue to work at a job they have instead of doing a project, they are able to do so if the administration allows it.

Despite the survey results, Wagner knew that passing the proposal to delay Senior Month would not automatically delay the program until 2022. “I’m not naive. I’m fully aware that the administration is not held accountable by Student Government, that Student Government has no actionable moves we made on the specific issue,” Wagner said. “But Student Government doesn’t get its power because of what it can do. It gets this power because it represents the students and it’s the most comprehensive and official way for the students to get their opinion on a topic released. So regardless of if voting on it isn’t going to actually change the outcome, student opinion should always be taken.”

Ori shares similar sentiments to Wagner, as she too is apprehensive about whether this proposal will actually change the May curriculum. “That’s always been a concern with Cabinet, how much this resolution is really meaning anything, but I believe that the student body coming together in the institution that it was given is very powerful,” Ori said. “My student opinion is that it would be inconsiderate to the seniors to implement this when we have missed so much school if there’s an opportunity to be in person instead. It just seems kind of careless to our feelings and where we’re at, as 17-year-olds who are missing school and want to be part of that.”

While Barr agrees with the difficult timing of Senior Month for 2021, she still thinks it is a feasible solution to the senior year issue. “Whether this year is the year, there’s all that, of course. But I’ve thought for years that we underutilized our second-semester seniors, that we think that they don’t have enough to do, that they’ve got a foot in both worlds. And we’re trying to pretend like they have both feet still in ours. And they just don’t,” Barr said. “So the reality is ripe for experimentation. And a school like ours should be a little experiment, that’s the nature of a private school, they’re not bound by any state mandates, or at least we’re bound by very few state mandates. In terms of how we design our curriculum we can do whatever we want. And so why not try out and just see new things?”

Five days after the proposal was passed, members of the administration set up a Zoom call with the entire senior class to clarify what Senior Month would look like moving forward. Head of the Upper School Justin Brandon, Dean of Student Life Joe Bruno, and Art Teacher Travis Chandler were all in attendance, as all three were in charge of creating and planning Senior Month. Brandon explained that, in the event that seniors were on campus come May, as they have been trying to make a reality, then Senior Month would not happen. If remote learning was still happening for the class of 2021, then they would be able to take finals early and do Senior Month for the rest of the year.

As the decision of whether or not Senior Month will happen is up to the administration, Barr is curious how it will end up playing out. “We do teach about democratic education. We do teach about our voice and teach about empowerment and all these sorts of things. So in our non-democratic school, which is run by an administration that honors democratic values, what’s the tipping point? At what point do they go with what they want to do before whatever complicated reasons arise that they have to keep in mind and to what extent do they listen to the sort of pleas of people who are directly affected,” Barr said.

Aside from the possibility of seniors ‘missing out’ on their last year, a large problem with Senior Month that came up in Plenary discussions was the idea of inequality with access to internships. “As cool as Senior Month could be, until the administration figures out how to fix those equity problems, then Senior Month will forever be an inequitable program,” Wagner said. “And I also think that the administration knows that there are problems with inequity this year and they didn’t care. And I think that that is a very telling sign that they did not care about how this new sweeping program was going to affect the diverse range of our student body.”

With the proposal passing, Ori feels that the administration’s motivation for implementing Senior Month was not entirely to benefit the students affected. “I think it would be for the administration, not for us,” Ori said. “They don’t really seem to be thinking, ‘ohmygosh, this is going to be so great for them this year.’ There’s a general consensus that it’s not even going to be the best that it can be this year, no matter what, so they’re not excited for it, we’re not excited for it. There’s no reason to do it this year. Just do it next year.”