OXFORD – Abigail Howes decided she would throw a big party for her senior project.

“I like putting on parties for my friends,” said Howes of the multithemed soirees she has created in the past. This just got a little bigger than the others.

“I really didn’t realize how big it would get until I got into it,” the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School senior said of the project she decided to develop as part of the OHCHS graduation requirement.

The Oxford resident decided she would hold a charity ball to raise funds for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization she has worked for the past three years. The semiformal ball is set to be held from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Main Street in Norway.

Not only did the planning begin to get overwhelming, but so did the expenses as Howes worked on the project over the last six months. When asked if any one event tipped her off that the project was larger than most, she said, “I guess when I was seeing how much it would cost.” She began to scale back.

Senior projects adviser Brewster Burns agreed that Howes’ project appears to be “on the high end” of projects that have been proposed this year or previously.

“They range from very complicated and nearly impossible to kids who don’t push themselves,” said Burns of the projects that have included carving a wooden bench for the Maine Veterans Home, teaching elementary school children how to read, building a garage, teaching a freshman history class and having a softball clinic.

“The list is as endless as there are things people do in real work,” said Burns, who is also chairman of the OHCHS English department.

Burns said the senior project format evolved from a portfolio and exit presentation graduation requirement that was instituted several years ago.

Although the portfolio was meant to show how students met the state’s learning standards, he said it didn’t really resonate with staff or students.

So several years ago a committee was formed to find a new way to demonstrate student learning. The senior project was born. Burns said the project must meet three criteria: it has to produce something that introduces a real-life product or service, students must apply independent learning to the project and it must affect someone.

Unlike other states, such as Massachusetts which requires passage of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems test by all students regardless of their ability, the OHCHS senior project is doable by students of all learning capacities as long as they show a good faith effort, Burns said.

“It’s a very human and fair process,” he said.

Howes said she chose the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization because she has seen firsthand how the organization can benefit children.

“I wanted it to benefit kids,” she said.

Howes said that in order to make a profit she will need to make at least $400 to pay for invitation and mailing costs, a D.J. and other costs. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Norway offered its hall for free, and many merchants have donated food, decorations and other items.

“Nothing has come out of my pocket yet, and I hope it doesn’t,” she said.

Tickets for the semiformal ball are available for $50 per couple at Books N Things on Main Street in Norway or by phoning the Children’s Center at 743-7035.

“The important thing is that the kids learn they are expected to do this on their own,” Burns said.

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