Completing a Senior Project is a ritual, and a graduation requirement, for every senior at Sonoma Valley High School. As part of the semester-long assignment, students are expected to write a related research paper and present a public presentation about the project. So how’s it going? The Sun’s Sarah Ford recently sat down with several seniors — Luci Palmer, Harim Lopez, Kohana Bowman and Karen Torres — to learn more about their projects.
The Sun: Your Senior Project is about foster care. How did you choose this topic?
I’ve been in and out of foster care my whole life. I wanted to highlight how the system functions and what aspects are problematic. I’ve always been passionate about helping foster children. I want to inform them about opportunities they may not be aware of, and educate the general public about foster care.
What was the subject of your Senior Project research paper?
I wrote about the need for foster care reform. One problem is privatized foster care, which isn’t subject to the same rules as government-run foster care regarding how foster kids are treated. And because it’s profit driven, they’re incentivized to put kids in foster care as opposed to other options, such as counseling to assist families or finding qualified relatives.
What are some other problems in the foster care system?
Most people don’t realize that abuse rates in foster care are extremely high. We need to shine light on that. Also, foster youth between 18 and 22 age out of the system and are suddenly expected to manage on their own without family and financial resources that most other young adults have. They need more job training and other supports.
Tell me about the public forum on foster care you’re organizing as part of your project.
I’ll do a public presentation at the high school about the foster care system, bringing in some experts in various areas. We’ll cover all aspects of foster care and provide information that people may not be familiar with. For example, there is a national Foster Care Bill of Rights. Also, some foster youth go from home to home—they need to know schools can help them work out an educational plan to help them succeed despite the disruptions. The audience will be foster kids, foster parents, potential foster parents, educators, and the public at large.
Who is your Senior Project mentor?
Veronica Gray, an English teacher. She has gone through the process of becoming a foster parent. She has been really helpful in making sure I have a clear plan and I cover all my bases.
I understand your Senior Project is about Reptiles. How did you choose this topic?
I chose this topic because I love reptiles and I know many people have the wrong impression about them. I also wanted to educate young children on how to properly take care of them if they ever decided to get one as a pet.
Have you always loved reptiles?
No. When I was younger I was deadly afraid of snakes and only started liking them after I held an extremely serene python. I realized then that snakes were probably more tranquil than most common house pets and decided to get over my fear.
Who is your mentor for the project?
Elisha Coon, a biology teacher at the high school. He is also the advisor for the Ecology Educators club, which I am a member of.
What was the topic of your Research paper?
I wrote about the welfare of exotic animals within the animal trade.
Are you going to do any hands-on teaching about reptiles?
Yes. I have created a lesson to teach to a class at Prestwood, which will include the handling of actual reptiles. I can’t be certain which animals I will be bringing to the class considering they could go into shed or eat a day before the lesson. They need to be in a heated environment to shed and to digest food. But I hope to bring a Kenyan Sand boa, Colombian Redtail Boa, Bearded Dragon, Albino Striped Gopher Snake, Mandarin Rat Snake, and multiple morphs of Crested Geckos.
What do you hope to learn from this?
I hope to learn how to properly teach someone about a specific topic and get over my grave fear of speaking in front of people. I would love to teach people who are afraid of these beautiful animals, that most are not aggressive, but should still be handled and taken care of properly.
Kohana Bowman and Karen Torres
Your Senior Project involves murals. How did you get the idea?
Karen: We both wanted to incorporate our love for art in our Senior Project and we wanted to leave a mark on our elementary school, Sassarini, and at our high school. Creating two murals was a great way to express our creativity and appreciation for our schools.
So you both have an interest in art?
Kohana: We both love art! Both of us have taken art classes at the high school. Karen plans on pursuing it as a hobby and I want to go into graphic design.
Tell me about the film you are making as part of your project.
Karen: The film will record the process of creating the murals, and will be our final Presentation. This is definitely Kohana’s element. She has taken Video Arts all four years of high school and has created some amazing short films. I love helping her with her projects.
Will the murals have a message?
Karen: The Sassarini mural will not. It will just be a fun space-themed artwork the children will love seeing. The high school mural will, however: that we are all equal. No matter how diverse we are, we’re all equal when it comes down to it.
What impact do you think your murals will have on students and staff?
Kohana: We believe that art is one of the most powerful forms of promoting change or acknowledging factors that may usually be overlooked. Combining a message with attractive symbols helps to spread ideas indirectly, and this is our goal.
What were your research papers on?
Karen: My paper was on nudity in art and how it shouldn’t be censored. The title was “Nudity in Art: Censoring Only Hides Beauty.” Kohana’s paper was on understanding the difference between community murals and graffiti. It was titled “The Heart Behind the Art.”
How did you end up working together?
Kohana: We have been close friends since 4th grade and have never separated since. We wanted to leave our mark on the schools of our childhood because they have special meaning to us both.