QUEST ought to be the Junior Year Benchmark


Every year, seniors at Irvington complete the QUEST project with guidance from the QUEST handbook.

Benchmark projects have always set Irvington apart from other schools. They give Vikings opportunities to set their foot in the real world, research topics that matter to them, and propose solutions to complex problems. However, they can often conflict with student’s schedules, primarily when they are administered in the wrong school year. QUEST should be moved from senior year to junior year to help seniors focus on their college applications, aid juniors in finding a passion, and because despite common consensus, the benchmark project won’t take up time during junior year. 

It is not an understatement to say that much of high school is preparation for transitioning into adult life. For many students, that means finding out what they want to study in college. Much of this preparation culminates into one opportunity to show off your work: senior year college applications. However, required papers for the QUEST project clash with multiple deadlines for applications, pushing Seniors into a state of frenzy. For example, in late October of 2020, students were given one week to find an expert interview for the project, resulting in a maximum score of 70 if it wasn’t done on time. This conflicted with UC applications, which had deadlines during early November and December. This creates one of two unintended consequences: either students lose sleep and their health declines over completing both in their best effort, or students choose to prioritize either applications or QUEST project, meaning that the work for the one crucial assignment they don’t prioritize turns out lackluster. 

It is irrefutable that benchmark projects teach students important life skills, especially QUEST and the outreach abilities it teaches students. However, these skills are more beneficial when taught in the junior year than senior year. As QUEST is a self-guided research project, completing it helps students to build knowledge on a topic they are interested in, giving them a way to find a possible passion. A survey found that 77% of Irvington alumni and current seniors believe that QUEST allowed them to find and work on a passion or interest. As a current senior explained, “My QUEST [project] was directly related to my predetermined passion. So it basically gave me the opportunity and chance to research deeper and more seriously about it. I was writing and reading on a topic that I loved and cared about.” This opportunity is more beneficial to Juniors than Seniors as students can expand upon their passion in the summer before college applications, therefore giving them a project and goal to write about when it comes to applications.

Some point out that the pressure of Junior Year grades would conflict with a benchmark project. However, the pressure of junior year will remain the same or be lessened if there were to be a benchmark project. Teachers in charge of QUEST work tend to give less work when there is QUEST work, as they don’t want the work to clash and are reluctant to grade an overabundance of assignments. Hence, benchmark projects in junior year are unlikely to cause stress. Additionally, because second-semester senior year grades do not matter for college applications, seniors tend to not put that much effort into the QUEST project. In the same survey, 70% of seniors and alumni felt that this so-called ‘senioritis’ led to less motivation on their QUEST project. If there is no passion behind the QUEST project, then the point of benchmark projects is diminished. For a school that prides itself on having projects that give back to the community, we have to work to uphold that each project can truly do that. As for now, the only way to maintain this respectful burden is to move QUEST to junior year.