Union Democrat staff

It's that time of year again: Senior projects by students at Tuolumne and Calaveras high schools are making the news.

A week seldom goes by without at least one Union Democrat story on a Sonora, Summerville or Bret Harte senior's efforts to raise money for a cause, help a family down on its luck or improve the high school campus.

On Saturday night, for example, Summerville senior Cassie Hard threw a benefit dinner to raise money for the Bear Assistance Fund, which provides caps and gowns, athletic equipment or payment of senior trip costs for students who otherwise could not meet costs.

Bret Harte senior Eric Coggins led an effort to build an on-campus memorial to Charles Betts, a Bullfrog baseball player who died in 2004, and other deceased students.

Sonora senior Adria Moss, in a one-day "fill the boot" campaign, last month raised $5,100 for the Firefighters Burn Institute in Sacramento, which treats burn victims and supports burn prevention education.

And such projects are just the tip of an iceberg of good deeds benefiting our communities. Below are just a few of those projects:

• A campaign to raise money for a new fireboat on Pinecrest Lake.

• Establishing a recycling program at Sonora Elementary School.

• A 5K run to raise money for Sonora High's Trek for the Track campaign. A soccer camp will also benefit the Trek.

• A Summerville concert to fund the Mountain Women's Resource Center. This is one of several projects helping the center, including Project Runway, a Sonora senior's March 28 fund-raising fashion show.

• Raising money for Sonora's Fire Museum.

• An April footrace to benefit the American Heart Association.

• Repair and restoration of Sonora High's "S" fountain.

• Directing a leadership conference for seventh- and eighth-graders.

• "Pedals for a Purpose," a program aimed at collecting and repairing bicycles for those with no other means of transportation.

• Several clinics and camps aimed at teaching grade-schoolers the basics of cheerleading and of sports ranging from tennis to football.

Collectively, area senior projects have raised tens of thousands of dollars, have produced hundreds of hours of volunteer work and have improved our communities immeasurably. The students should be commended for their dedicated and unselfish work.

The projects are nothing new: Summerville High first required them in 1997 and Sonora High followed a year later. Bret Harte has had them for three years.

At Sonora and Summerville, English teachers Ben Howell and Brianna Willis - both 1998 grads of their respective schools and among the first seniors to complete projects - now coordinate the programs.

"We don't necessarily promote public service projects," said Summerville's Willis. "But that's the direction they seem to be going."

At Sonora, Howell said some AP students are required to do public service projects, but many others do so on their own.

Yes, seniors still learn how play musical instrument, customize cars or write short stories for their projects.

"But public service has become the thing to do," said Summerville Principal Dave Urquhart.

Dean Way, principal at Bret Harte, said about half his school's seniors are completing community-benefit projects. He added that there is some discussion of requiring that all projects provide some public service - "a change I'd be in favor of."

High school senior projects - all of which will be showcased at May events - are a win-win proposition. Our communities, of course, benefit on multiple fronts. And our seniors, through their projects, build ties to the community they are helping.

And maybe, as did Ben Howell and Brianna Willis, they will stay or return to make even more enduring contributions.