The child, who was autistic, became very interested when she began singing. As she watched his reaction, Kara developed an idea for her senior project - she wanted to learn more about the impact of music upon children with mental disabilities.
"I wanted to put my gifts and talents to something I am so passionate about, which is these children," she said, as she prepared to present the fruits of her research to a panel of community judges.
Tupelo High School held its annual Culmination Day at BancorpSouth Arena. About 415 students presented their senior projects to volunteer community evaluators. Most of them had worked all year on the projects, which are a major component of their senior English grades and a requirement for graduation.
Kara made several trips to the McDougal Center in Tupelo. She wrote a song to help the students there learn how to spell "fish," "lion," "spider" and "monkey." She also made a presentation about her project to the Kiwanis Club, and raised $1,407 for the center to buy technology to allow more of its students to listen to music.
Senior projects have been required of Tupelo seniors since 2005, and the Culmination Day event has been coordinated by the Association for Excellence in Education.
The project will change next year, however, as Tupelo High switches to a block schedule. For one, there will be two presentation days, one each semester, and the event will be moved to the school's campus.
Also, students will be encouraged to work in groups of 10 or 12 students, THS senior English teacher April Friar said, and to have a greater emphasis on community service. The goal will be to teach collaboration and to have a larger impact.
"What we want is for them to do something more substantial and sustainable than individual projects," Friar said.
Students will still be graded individually, and leadership roles will be rotated among all of the group members, she said.
This year's projects featured a diversity of topics. Morrica Ashby studied black history and put on a commemoration performance in February.
Keri Camp helped her grandmother, whose house was destroyed by last year's Smithville tornado, and created a scrapbook about the storm that she donated to the town. Curt Bailey made a model solar-powered house that he will give to Tupelo Middle School to use as a teaching tool.
Blake Miller spent a week on a dairy farm, McKamy Smith did an awareness campaign on the importance of athletes getting electrocardiogram tests for their hearts, and Kari Schwan taught a group of Girl Scouts about baking.