"This project is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It has a taste of the real work, and it showed me how it operates. It really brings out one's characteristics - their strengths, their weakness, and how they deal with stress. It teaches us how to handle people in demanding situations. It made me a better person."The annual Boyertown Junior High West Center "Ninth Grade Project" was just concluded last week, and that quote was one of many anonymous ones presented to the project judges.

This year's Project theme was "The Heritage Foundation," and hundreds of West ninth-graders were challenged (over a five-day span) to collaborate, team-wise, with assignments including advertising/ marketing, zoning, recreational/ facilities management, architecture, engineering, interior design and landscaping.

The Ninth Grade Project has evolved into a spring tradition at West, with students, teachers and administrators contributing to the program's overall effectiveness.

Throw into that mix scores of area business and civic leaders who serve as the judges, allowing these young and aspiring creators and entrepreneurs to introduce and elaborate on their Project details.

It is probably understated to suggest that this is a win-win proposition, connecting education with community, learning with the public/ taxpayers.

This represented my first year as a Project judge, but I certainly look forward to future Project judging opportunities.

The students were well-groomed and professional, serious and articulate; their presentations were detailed and well-defined, accentuated by visuals and documentation.

And the sampling of quotes (from some of the ninth-grade participants) allows for a glance at the learning provided "beyond the learning."

"I worked so hard, and now I really have a new-found respect for my parents," a project participant said. "I'm glad I don't have to do all of that stuff right now."

The vast majority of parents who hear those words will be truly grateful. After all, "teenagers" and "respect" don't always reside in the same terminology quarters.

"My group is working really well together," one of the students said. "We are finally getting into detailed conversations and helping each other out. I think this project is a magnificent idea to do in the ninth grade because it brings out the maturity in a lot of kids that usually don't show it."

"Working well together" is a giant step for any group, regardless of age. In plenty of business settings, the West Project model would be one well worth emulating.

"I put a lot of time, hard work, and effort into my project," an anonymous student said. "So even if it doesn't stand on top of everyone else's, I'll at least know that it was the best work that I could do."

"The best work," the finest efforts ... there's a great deal to be said for self-satisfaction after completing tasks of all shapes and sizes.

And one of the most puzzling aspects is the reality that those gargantuan labors do not automatically translate into super successes.

"The big thing that this project has taught me is confidence," another said. "I now know that I have to walk into a meeting with my head held high and take control of the room. But also, I have confidence in my associates."

That "confidence" factor is a supreme thing indeed. Exuding that positive attitude will take these young people to lofty places.

"I am kind of sad that there is only one day of the project left," another student said. "I really enjoyed it."

Anticipation and extreme preparation are largely responsible for the successes and delights of any project, any event, any game-plan. Generally, the journey-end arrives way too rapidly.

"Really, though, this is enlightening," a different student said. "I like being part of a group, but this is going to be a long journey for all of us. This (project) has made me: think, rethink, review, evaluate, reevaluate, reconsider and push my limits!! I think I am learning."

"Enlightening" for the students, for the teachers, for the parents, for the judges.

Kudos to the Junior High West administrators and staff for maintaining this Ninth Grade Project, year after year. This is good, really good for so many people.

Jim Davidheiser is a freelance contributor to The Boyertown Area Times/Berks-Mont Newspapers. Email comments to jhdcom@comcast.net. Column topics and suggestions are encouraged.

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