The eighth grade project is a tradition of long standing at Ashwood. As a culmination of the educational journey, it is an opportunity for each student to have an independent learning experience based on individual interests and to step into a new level of self-determination and responsibility.
Like many traditions at Ashwood, the eighth grade project is watched over by not one teacher, but the entire faculty. While the class teacher—currently Mr. Clough—has primary responsibility for overseeing the project, the faculty makes decisions about the broad nature of the eighth grade project and supports the class teacher’s work with the students throughout the year. Another key role of the faculty is reviewing and giving the green light to each student project proposal.
Over the years, the faculty has observed that more and more students have chosen to tackle eighth grade projects that require many hours of time spent at a computer screen. While these projects have been no less inspired and inspiring than any others, this trend does not feel in keeping with the faculty’s deepest wishes for our students—to have as much experience as possible engaging with the world directly, warmly, and humanly—in short, in an unmediated way.
After many hours of discussion, the faculty has thus concluded that it is time to rein in the digital aspect of the eighth grade project. As of this year, students may no longer choose a project that is digitally-based. While students may use electronic media to communicate about their projects (e.g., email), to do research (e.g., electronic card catalog), and to document their projects (e.g., digital photography), they may not choose a project based on the use of computers or any other digital or social media.
We recognize that this may be an unwelcome addition to the eighth grade project requirements for some students and their families, while other families may greet this decision with a sigh of relief. The faculty respects the cultural norms of families with regard to digital media and recognizes the utility of computers and their central place in our society. At the same time, we feel that our students will have a lifetime to engage with computers and digital media and that this decision does not diminish that opportunity in any way.
Finally, we are instituting a faculty advisor for each eighth grader. Currently, the eighth grade project requires an expert-in-the-field mentor as well as a designated parent mentor. The addition of a faculty advisor will create a trio of caring adults to shepherd each student through the project. Faculty advisors will meet with students once a month from September through April to provide feedback and support. Following the project presentation, the faculty advisor will continue to meet with the student to provide informal support through graduation.