A lifelike wolf sculpture stalked the commons area. Yoga manuals and musical composition score sheets were carried tenderly in nervous hands. Carnivorous plants were displayed expectantly next to greenhouse building models. Teens gathered to "ooh and ahh" over their friends' work.
That snapshot summarizes the excitement and wonder found in the hallways of Hood River Valley High School on Jan. 26 when close to 150 students arrived to present their semester-long Extended Application projects to a cadre of 75 adult judges.
Angel Gabriel Najera, 16, worked for three months to construct his very realistic wire and fabric sculpture of an American gray wolf.
"It took me about 60 hours to build," said Najera, who hopes to be some kind of artist in the future. "This was my first 3-D art experience."
Najera's 24-year-old sister, Lionor Najera, a former HRV graduate, was proudly standing at Angel's side while he put the final touches on his project presentation. She shared her own observations of the EA project night.
"I like how they're doing things that are more active for the students now," Lionor said. "It surprised me. We didn't have this when I went here. For my brother, this boosted his imagination."
For Najera, the new statewide mandate, requiring every junior or senior to complete an in-depth project prior to graduation, created an exciting opportunity that led to success and career exploration.
Looking around the hallways at well-dressed teens carrying briefcases, portfolios and completed construction-based projects, it appeared that most other students invested a similar amount of effort into their experience and came away with comparable success stories.
Travis Monahan, 17, couldn't bring his 6-by-8-by-9-foot polycarbonate greenhouse onto school grounds, but was able to bring a scale model and a sample of the carnivorous plants he plans to grow in his now-finished EA project.
"I hope to sell the plants I grow inside this at farmer's markets," said Monahan, whose mother, Pam, helped carry Travis' model and plant samples. Travis' hands were full with a presentation board and books on Venus flytraps.
"The judges were great," said Monahan, who plans to major in botany at OSU. Like the rest of the presenting students, Monahan was required to present his EA project to a panel of three community judges who evaluated both the project's rigor and the student's oral and visual presentation of the project.
According to Wendy Herman, EA night co-coordinator, volunteer judges for the evening came from every part of the community - not simply parents of existing students.
"We have retired people, former parents, current parents, district staff people," said Herman. "We have veterans who have been here every year and many people who came tonight for the first time."
Some judges come to "check out" what their younger students will be required to do in the future.
"My son will be doing this next year and I hope to be able to give him tips on what to do and not do," said Craig Danner, a first-time volunteer judge.
Others come just to share the excitement.
"This is completely different than I was in school," said Wes Bailey, who has been a judge three times now. "The kids have put an amazing amount of time and effort into their projects."
Amanda McCafferty, 17, awaited judges Danner, Bailey and Pennie Burns, as they finished up their brief summary of their experience. She was the next student scheduled to present in their judging room.
McCafferty came with an in-depth PowerPoint presentation on knee replacement surgery, a topic she researched based on her interest in a future career in medicine.
In another room down the hall, judges Mary Jensen, Michelle Redmond and Debbie Dorich took a short break between students to share their experience.
"This can be a hard time for kids with lots of big decisions," said Jensen. "I think having adults interested in them, outside of their teachers and parents, really makes a difference."
"It is a great project. It is good for kids to start learning presentation skills. This really prepares them for life outside of school," Redmond said.
"I think it is so fun to see all the different projects and see the kids present," said Dorich, who started judging when her oldest son, Leo, completed his EA project. "The kids really step up for this."