Senior thesis projects may be associated with prestigious liberal arts colleges draped in ivy, but school administrators in Santa Monica believe they may offer an important educational opportunity for Samohi seniors in the project based learning pathway.

“Our current juniors are interested in art, flying, clothing making, writing, video game design, children with disabilities, sports medicine, finance, the stock market, carpentry, engineering, cosmetic surgery, drone photography, magicians, entrepreneurship, optometry, cooking,” Nicole Nicodemus, Project Based Learning Pathway Assistant Principal, told the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education during a recent meeting. “I am so excited by this junior class that I can’t wait to see what innovative ideas they might come up with.”

Nicodemus was speaking during a presentation about the new senior thesis program at the Thursday, March 17, School Board meeting. 

The thesis project will be completed by all students in the PBL Pathway, where “students engage in internships and multi-disciplinary projects based on their interests. They graduate with a Samohi diploma and real-world experience prepared to thrive in college and career,” according to the pathway’s official description.

The senior thesis project will include professional contacts through internships and mentoring, culminating in a “five minute, TED-style talk,” according to Nicodemus. The project also includes a research paper. Seniors undertaking their thesis projects will, in turn, mentor freshman students.

Nicodemus said the thesis projects would help the District fulfill its Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) goal “of having all graduates ready for not only college but also career fields.”

Devon Smith, learning & innovation coordinator, mentioned that the thesis project could translate into similar programs at Malibu High School (MHS) or among other Samohi students.

School Board members who spoke at the presentation expressed support for the new program. 

Board Member Laurie Lieberman reiterated Smith’s point that it could one day translate into more traditional learning pathways at SMMUSD’s two traditional campuses, Samohi and MHS. 

“Optimally, almost everything you talk about here should be something we should be incorporating, generally, into the opportunities we have for all students,” Lieberman said, adding that she would like to see it or another version of it at Samohi or MHS. “I think the idea of doing a senior thesis, with all the things that you’ve described here, is — for those who are interested and want to and have the time and the desire — it’s a perfect combination [for] high school.” 

Lieberman went on to say that she did not think it was necessarily appropriate for every high schooler, but added, “I just think this would be a fantastic opportunity.”

Board Member Richard Tahvaldaran-Jesswein also praised the program and added he felt it would be another “tool” in the District’s “tool belt” to be used for closing the achievement gap.

The senior thesis program is set to begin in the 2022-23 school year.

emily@smdp.com