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Sixty-one members of the new freshman class at Fredonia Central School have a project that isn't due until their senior year.

And they are looking to the community for help.

Over the next several years, the students will work with mentors employed in career paths they have selected. As seniors, the 61 will complete a project outlining goals after high school and how they will achieve them. Part of the responsibility is a presentation before an audience.

"They will speak to a group they select, focusing on what they're going to do when they leave school and how it directly correlates with their education," said John Ames, work force preparation coordinator.

Although the senior project has been an option for several years, this is the first year the idea has caught fire. The 61 students represent more than 25 percent of their class.

"This is the first large group we have actively recruited," Ames said. "It represents a true cross section of the class and includes every ability level."

The senior project carries one-quarter of an academic credit and will appear on high school transcripts.

"It allows the students to say to prospective colleges or employers, 'This is something extra I didn't have to do, but I did it anyway,' " Ames said.

The finer details of the project will be worked out this fall.

The project is just part of the district's School To Work Program, covering kindergarten through 12th grade. Although recognized by the state, the project is not mandated.

"Very few schools have this as a requirement," Ames said. "The state Department of Education is looking on with a great deal of interest, especially as standards are increasing."

As a result, he added, Fredonia has tried to develop "as close to a model program as possible."

The School to Work Program will be funded by a $100,000 federal grant channeled through the state. It marks the final year of a five-year grant.

"That's why we've integrated so much of this into our curriculum," Ames said.

The extensive program starts students thinking about career options in the primary grades. By the seventh grade, students are expected to be focused on their lives after high school.

The program also includes community beautification projects, jobs "shadowing" and community service.

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