When Summit High sophomore Nick Christiansen talks about the gaming computer he built, his voice quickens with excitement. His explanation hardly pauses for breath while maneuvering around complicated technical vocabulary. Onlookers pause and look at pictures of the inside of Christiansen's machine as he describes how he built it from scratch.
Christiansen's computer was part of the Summit High School "Personal Passions Project Showcase" that took place Thursday. The project is a requirement of the Middle Years Program, a component of the International Baccalaureate program adopted by the school district. The purpose of the program is to develop personal skills within a global context.
Students start thinking about the required project near the end of freshman year. Though an international focus is encouraged, the topic is nearly unrestricted and up to each individual to decide.
"Whatever you want to learn, it's all up to you," said Chris Hall, media specialist at Summit High. She and other educators circulated the common area where the students had set up presentation tables, asking questions and listening to explanations on a diverse set of topics.
Sophomore Morgan Courtney took the international focus to heart and started up a correspondence with a high school student from France. The two spent months writing letters back and forth in a cultural exchange.
"I've always wanted to go there," Courtney said of her choice to learn more about France. She said certain things from her correspondence with her French pen pal had surprised her, such as learning the many difference between American and French school systems.
Classmate Sierra Wilson chose to combine her two passions - animals and art. She started a "Portraits 4 Pets" business, rendering photographs of beloved pets into intricate pencil drawings. The fees she collected she then turned around and donated to Animal Rescue of the Rockies, a nonprofit organization that rescues animals from overcrowded shelters and places them in homes.
When deciding what to do for her project, "I thought, why not help the animals I love?" Wilson said. Though technically the deadline is over, she plans to continue her project.
Sharing the same table was Haley Woodford, giving away samples of desserts that she had made from scratch. Her project compiled her recipes into a single book, which she plans to expand.
"I picked it because I want to own a bakery when I'm older, so it's meaningful," Woodford said.
Those attending the showcase circulated around the table, pointing at pictures, sampling food and asking questions.
"I was impressed with the maturity of the students," said J. Kent McHose, a member of the Summit School District Board of Education. "For some kids it is a hobby and for others it reflects the way their career is heading. ... It's a way early on where they get to apply their talents toward their career further on."
The second project showcase will take place March 7.