16 Auburn seniors tackle academic seminars

Just try to spell gesamtkunstwerk, much less explain it.

That was Jacob Higgins’ challenge at senior seminar presentations at Auburn High School May 2. Higgins was among 16 students in the Renaissance Gifted Academy who had to boil down complex academic projects to 10 minutes and describe them to a panel of judges.

During Higgins’ presentation, he said the struggle to express the seemingly disparate and inexpressible is what drives art. He talked about his passion for studying the galaxy, and he recalled when he first looked up at the sky and absorbed how infinite it was.

“I was completely overwhelmed with its humongous-ness,” he said.

Auburn High School senior Jacob Higgins presents his senior seminar project to a panel of judges including Superintendent Ehren Jarrett (in foreground).

Auburn High School senior Jacob Higgins presents his senior seminar project to a panel of judges including Superintendent Ehren Jarrett (in foreground).

Back to gesamtkunstwerk, which Higgins explained was the German composer Richard Wagner’s term for synthesizing music and drama in a groundbreaking opera form. Up until Wagner, opera had sounded pretty, but the music didn’t drive the story and vice versa. “Every single choice (Wagner made) augmented, improved, and pushed forward” his composition, Higgins explained.

So you get the idea these presentations were not a walk in the park for students.

They had to make choices about how to convey eight months of planning, research and conclusions in the 10-minute time slot they had. Five minutes were set aside for Q and A from the panel of judges, which included Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Ehren Jarrett.

The senior seminar — an elective class in its first year at Auburn — is similar to the Capstone, a concept that RPS 205 may scale up and offer districtwide. The Capstone combines theory and practice to demonstrate a high level of scholarship and college and career readiness. Three students at Roosevelt Alternative High School are doing Capstone-like projects, too. They will present them May 15.

John Rauh, a teacher in Auburn’s Renaissance Academy who advised the students, said the projects were their first experience with independent academic work.

“I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished. They were wrestling with quite a bit beyond simply attempting to say something noteworthy.  For example, many of them had to gain ‘fluency’ in academic language and thought, a topic certainly covered in their regular classes, but often with quite a bit of guidance.”

Scholarships funded by an anonymous donor were awarded based on a scoring rubric, which was followed by the judges:

First place ($1,000): To Andrea Wallace for a project about transitioning gifted middle school students into the Renaissance high school academy at Auburn. Wallace will attend Hillsdale College in the fall.

Second place ($700):  To Emma Lundquist, a flutist, for her original music composition, “Midnight Amour.” Lundquist will attend the University of Evansville in the fall.

Third place ($360): To Jacob Higgins for the project described above, “Space Thoughts on the Corner of Randolph and Andromeda.” Higgins will attend MIT.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.