HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Jumping out of an airplane isn't a graduation requirement for most high school seniors.
But at Spring Valley High School in Wayne County, it was for Drew Smith. Smith, who had never been in an airplane before, went skydiving for his senior presentation on the psychological reasons why people take risks.
''So the first time I've ever flown in a plane I jumped out of it, which was pretty crazy,'' he said Wednesday, making his classmates laugh.
His presentation was part of Senior Quest, an oral and written communications class. Wayne County this year began requiring its 514 seniors to complete research projects through the course as part of its school-to-work initiative, said Jim Hale, administrative assistant with the county school board.
''We have heard ... in recent years a lot of complaints from area businesses that students coming out of high school are really lacking in communication skills, especially writing and speaking,'' said Spring Valley teacher Pam Perdue.
Students must write an eight-to-10 page research paper, work at least 20 hours on a related project with a mentor and give an eight-to-12 minute oral presentation.
''I think it gives you a lot of experience standing up and giving speeches in front of people you don't really know,'' said Aaron Billups, who presented a portfolio of photographs he had taken and developed.
Teachers and community members judge the oral presentations, which can be nerve-racking.
''They gripe a lot,'' said Perdue. ''Because a lot of them are terrified, a lot of them have never had to get up and speak.''
Spring Valley students were encouraged to try something new, like Smith did, or work in a field they hope to pursue.
Brandon McCoy, who wants work in the theater, wrote, directed and starred in a one-act play presented last semester. He spent nearly 200 hours on it.
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