Martha’s Vineyard high school seniors showcase diverse interests

Lizzie Kelleher appears on camera for MVTV, the Island's cable public access TV station, as part of her senior project. — Photo courtesy of Lizzie Kelleher

Twelve students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) will showcase their senior projects on May 21 to 23. Their half-hour public presentations before a panel will be the culmination of a semester spent learning and exploring their special interests.

The senior project program offers students a taste of less structured college life before graduation. They choose their own topics and work independently.

Students are required to work with one mentor in the school and another in the community, according to assistant principal Matt Malowksi, who has run the program the last two years.

A senior project requires a minimum of three dedicated class periods in a student’s schedule. Those working on projects attend school on an alternate day schedule similar to the work/study program.

Graded on a pass/fail basis, a senior project has three components: a journal to document progress, a paper of at least 10 pages, and a 20-minute presentation at the semester’s end before a panel of four or five evaluators.

Students may choose two members of their panel, which includes professionals and members of the Island community who volunteer to attend presentations on topics related to their areas of expertise.

“We always tend to get a lot of art and music projects, but this year, we have a variety that includes nutrition, agriculture, and green energy,” Mr. Malowski said.

As a representative sample, The Times spoke this week with three students about their projects.

One-of-a-kind kiteboard

Oliver Filley designed and built his own kiteboard. “I’ve been kiteboarding for three years now, and I’m going to college to study marine industrial design, so I kind of mixed those two interests and put them together,” he said.

Oliver started the project in January by researching different types of kiteboards and materials. He began building his board in late March, using tools and space in teacher Paul Brissette’s shop at the high school, and finished it last weekend.

Construction company owner Mike Zedah of Edgartown, a fellow kiteboarder who has also made his own boards, provided helpful advice. Mr. Brissette also gave Oliver some guidance, and art teacher Janice Frame helped him with the kiteboard’s graphic design.

Although the kiteboard he built is not quite up to par for water use, Oliver views it as a valuable learning experience.

“It was my first board, so I didn’t expect anything great from it, and there are a few things I can improve for next time, for sure,” he said. “This is the prototype. I’ll definitely build more.”

Oliver plans to work on another kiteboard or possibly a surfboard over the summer and will attend the Savannah College of Art and Design next fall.

Island landmarks for little ones

Maggie Johnson’s mentorship experience at West Tisbury School last fall inspired her senior project, a children’s book about Island landmarks.

“I worked with first and second graders, and one of their projects was to pick places they thought were the most important on Martha’s Vineyard,” Maggie said.

After she took photos of their choices and made a map for the classroom, she said, “It made me realize that there are so many places that I didn’t know about on Martha’s Vineyard, either.”

Maggie’s book is about 20 pages long and includes photos, drawings, and descriptions about all of the Island’s lighthouses, bridges, and towns, as well as some parks and beaches. She said her mentor outside of school, West Tisbury School teacher Elaine Barnett, gave her insight about how to write age-appropriate descriptions for children.

Maggie said she is glad she had the opportunity to work on a senior project before she attends the University of New Hampshire next fall.

“I think it’s the same for the other students I’ve talked to who did projects, that we all feel pleased we have something to show for all of our time this semester,” she said.

A filmmaker is born

Lizzie Kelleher’s senior project involved creating a show about the high school for Martha’s Vineyard Television (MVTV), the Island’s public-access cable TV station. She said the experience inspired a new interest in film and a possible career field. She took classes and worked with MVTV access coordinator Michelle Vivian to learn how to work a camera and edit video.

That led her to create and film “Lizzie Lately,” a show featuring interviews with MVRHS students. She also produced a film for eighth graders about what to expect in high school, and another film featuring one of her poems.

Lizzie said she hopes to attend Syracuse University in the fall to study creative writing with a minor in film. “My senior project opened a whole new world of things I never learned about before,” she said.

Her experience is exactly what principal Stephen Nixon said he hoped for when he pitched the idea to the high school committee and it was approved in 2006. As a former classroom teacher, he recalled how difficult it was to keep senior students interested and to get them excited about something, especially those who had completed classes necessary for graduation or had been accepted early to college. Mr. Nixon also pointed out that senior projects offer a way to showcase the skills and talents of students who may never receive recognition.

The pilot senior project program began in the spring of 2007 with two students.

“We’d like to keep building it,” Mr. Malowski said. “Hopefully we can get it up to 20 or 30 students.”

Senior Project Presentation Schedule

Presentations are open to the public and held in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School library conference room.

May 21

9:15 am: Noelle Nelson, Art Show

10:30 am: Catherine Todd, Goddess Within

11:45 am: Maggie Lindland, Class Leveling

1 pm: Eva Balboni, Nutrition and Exercise Science

May 22

9:15 am: Oliver Filley, Kite Board Design

10:30 am: Lizzie Kelleher, From Poetry to Film

11:45 am: Anna Yukevich, Music Theory and Me

1 pm: Caitlin Serpa, Gardens, Island Grown

May 23

9:15 am: Tony Lima, Scrap

10:30 am: Emma Hallbilsback, Agrotourism

11:45 am: Truda Silberstein, Who Are You?

1 pm: Maggie Johnson, Children’s Book