COLUMBIA—Seniors at Cardinal Newman School face an extra challenge in their curriculum.
They must balance the usual academics, extracurricular activities, and applying to colleges with the arduous task of a research project on Catholic social teaching and how it relates to a real world issue.
Their graduation hinges on their success.
They select their topics in May of their junior year, do preliminary research over the summer, and begin work in the fall. The project replaces midterm and final exams.
“The best thing we can do is prepare them for the next steps in life,” said Jacqualine Kasprowski, principal. “We thought a good way to do that would be some type of extended project steeped in Catholic identity.”
Kasprowski developed the idea after she attended a National Catholic Education Association conference and learned about a Catholic high school in Indianapolis with a similar program. She said the project requires youth to develop crucial research and time management skills.
“It is good preparation for college because they learn time management before they get there,” she said. “The project is time-consuming and they’re also having to deal with college applications and taking some of their toughest courses. I’ve had former students tell me it was a good experience because once they reach college, they have to do two or three major papers a semester.”
The project includes a research paper, a portfolio and an oral presentation in front of a panel of three judges at the end of the year.
Each senior must earn a minimum of 700 points out of a possible 1,000. Those who score higher than 850 points receive a Commendation of Excellence noted on their transcript.
In recent years, students have explored issues such as gun control, immigration, stem cell research, health care, just-war, human trafficking, global warming and race.
Catholic social teachings include the life and dignity of the human person, the dignity of work, the rights of workers, care for God’s creation, family and community solidarity, the importance of human rights and care for the poor and vulnerable.
“Just about anything they encounter in life is tied to some sort of social teaching,” Kasprowski said. “We want them to be passionate about the topic because we want them to complete this work and then go out and affect change in the world.”
Leila Heidari, a 2010 graduate and class salutatorian, studied the rights of undocumented workers in the United States. She became interested in the topic after watching a PBS documentary about the struggles of three Hispanic women, she said.
Heidari is currently studying at the University of South Carolina Honors College in Columbia, and considering majors in either psychology or biomedical engineering.
She said she plans to become involved with the Roosevelt Institute at USC, a student organization focused around public policy, and thinks her perspectives based on Catholic social teaching will add an important component to the group.
“Through the project, I realized that Catholic social teaching is not some abstract idea,” Heidari said. “Rather, it’s a point of view we should use when we approach any problem. I felt fulfilled that I was able to match my views on this real world topic with the actual teachings of my faith.”