Dripping Springs graduates shine a spotlight on skills with senior portfolios

Dripping Springs High seniors last week made history by becoming the first group to take part in an on-campus commencement ceremony at the new Tiger Stadium.

But in order to walk the stage, Dripping Springs seniors first had to provide administrators, teachers and community members a glimpse of the skills learned in high school and how it could help them in their careers.

By presenting senior portfolios, students are able to not only discover what they want to do in life, but also learn skills that can help them in the real world.

Joe Burns, Dripping Springs High School principal, said the portfolios allow students to develop the skills necessary when they leave school. Some of these skills – communication, leadership and responsibility – aren’t necessarily measured in the classroom.

“The portfolios are designed to demonstrate that, and reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve learned through school, and present it in professional way to their community, and to professionals in their career field,” Burns said.

Dripping Springs began the senior portfolio idea decades ago, Burns said. The district was one of the first in the state to comprehensively have a requirement such as the portfolios for graduation.

When the program began, the portfolios were structured and required students to present work over their four-year career, as well as a cover letter, resume and visual presentation.

In the last two years, administrators tweaked the program to allow students to “bring in their interest” and give them a voice in the process.

While students must follow a rubric with required elements, how they demonstrate those presentations is entirely up to them.

While some students use PowerPoint presentations or videos to demonstrate what they learned in school, others utilize a more hands-on approach that caters to their own style.

The process begins at the end of the students’ junior year, when they present a proposal to administrators. Students are asked to think about what they want to do in college or technical school, or whatever career they want to go into.

From there, students have a full year to build their portfolios based on their experiences.

Burns said students who plan to go into the automotive industry have used an engine block they helped build as their presentation tool. Other ideas have included theater students using audition material they are readying for college, as well as a rock climber who rappelled from the catwalk of the district’s performing arts center.

Presentations are conducted in front of a panel that consists of teachers, administrators and those who are in a particular career field. The panel is selected by the school district.

The district clusters the panels by field, with the panels taking in multiple presentations over the course of a few weeks.

For some students, presenting in front of a panel is a nerve-wracking experience, while others are naturals at it. Regardless of how they feel going into it, students feel empowered by their accomplishments when they’re done.

“It’s an amazing time for me to see the students,” Burns said. “I’ve never personally been disappointed.”

Some of the more memorable presentations came from students who may struggle in the classroom, but are able to succeed in hands-on fields.

Burns said presentations that are “tear-jerkers” come from those who share their experiences volunteering in the community.

“We have had students that have committed a tremendous amount of time and talents to community service,” Burns said. “They take on the idea they don’t have to be a graduate from high school to have a big impact on the world.”

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