Senior Defenses at Common Ground: Leading & Learning at High Levels

By Jesse Delia
Environmental Leadership Manager

Each presentation finishes with a well-deserved burst of applause. The cheering of family members, friends, and staff is a celebration of four years of learning, reflection, and hard work by the senior standing in front of their audience.

Environmental Leadership Portfolio work begins in 9th grade and culminates with the Senior Defense, a uniquely Common Ground rite of passage. The defense is a presentation that highlights core experiences during each seniors’ time at Common Ground and draws on academic study, afterschool program participation, Green Job Corps internships, and out of school experiences and learning.  The very personal nature of the process allows each student to offer something in their defense that is wonderfully and uniquely theirs. It is an opportunity to present the story of their growth as a leader during their time with us.

SSJE students engage in a tower building activity that develops teamwork and challenges students to pay attention to process and relationship while trying to achieve their result.

Our Leadership Portfolio process is a major component of how we fulfill on our commitment to cultivating Environmental Leadership in our students. In addition to offering a wide variety of career and college related experiences as part of their Portfolio, we also spend intentional time developing the unique leadership of each of our students.

Rooted in the core belief that all students can lead and learn at high levels, we build age-appropriate experiences into guidance for each grade that invite students to reflect on their own learning in and out of the classroom as well as engage in team and leadership building activities.

At each grade level, students have end of year milestones for written reflections related to their experiences which are entered into student leadership portfolio websites. These reflections focus on academic and extracurricular experiences that students deem significant to them and their growth as a leader. Each entry reflects student learning and growth in connection to our Environmental Leadership Standards that focus on five core values: Pride, Ownership, Wonder, Effort, and Respect.

Seniors in SSJE use a model of success from The Interaction Institute for Social Change, talking about how process, relationship, and results are all dimensions of success.

Students are also asked to reflect on the ways in which they have made sustainable changes in themselves and in their communities. 

  1. Freshmen focus on sharing about themselves and developing their definition of leadership.

  2. Sophomores continue this process of crafting a personal definition of leadership and add 3 reflection entries into their website. Spring midterms for sophomores include a presentation to their guidance teacher and families about their growth as a leader so far.
  3. Juniors take a deeper dive into college exploration and complete a job shadow as part of career readiness.
  4. Seniors embark on the Senior Social Justice Experience class with eight written reflections in their portfolio website about their growth as a leader.  

Each year, Seniors work incredibly hard to prepare their Portfolio Defenses. The presentations are consistently powerful, poignant, and inspiring. So far, this year has been no different as 25 seniors have completed and passed their defenses with the remaining seniors defending next week.

Here are a few highlights from senior presentations from the Class of 2017:

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