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MVRHS

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The Boston Globe named first year coach Nina Bramhall Division 3 girls tennis coach of the year.

The girls tennis team, led by Samantha Potter and the trophy, walked off the ferry to a huge ovation. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) girls’ varsity tennis team, unbeaten this season, beat Hopedale Junior-Senior High School Friday afternoon 4-1 to win the Division 3 girls’ tennis state championship at the beautiful Saint John’s High School courts in Shrewsbury and make school history.

The Vineyard finished the season at 22-0, including playoff action. Their accomplishment did not go unnoticed. A large crowd was waiting to greet the girls when they walked off the ferry Friday night amid the sound of sirens and horns.

A huge crowd, complete with fire engines and police cars, was on hand to welcome the state champions home. — Photo by Michael Cummo
A huge crowd, complete with fire engines and police cars, was on hand to welcome the state champions home. — Photo by Michael Cummo

“It’s over the top, are you kidding?” head coach Nina Bramhall told The Times after the big win. “It’s just thrilling, totally thrilling. How can you not be proud of everybody?  I’m just thrilled for them.”

“Does that mean you want a pay raise?” joked Vineyard Youth Tennis director Scott Smith who stood with coach Bramhall after the MIAA tournament director announced that she had been selected division three girls’ tennis coach of the year.

The Vineyard girls were jubilant to hear that Ms. Bramhall, who completes her first year coaching the team, was honored by the Boston Globe.

Mr. Smith traveled the distance Friday to cheer on the girls who have been part of his program for many years.

“These are girls that we have taught the past seven-eight years,” Mr. Smith said.  “The other team was overmatched today, the Lynnfield match was stronger – they were state champions the last two years.  It’s really exciting. I’m proud of them.”

“It’s gone great,” longtime MIAA tournament director Bill Gibbons told The Times.

“I’d like to congratulate both teams on a great final,” Mr. Gibbons said at the trophy presentations. “It was great tennis, but more importantly, great sportsmanship. This is the way high school sports should be. You play hard, you play to win, but you play with class. You represent yourself, you represent your parents, and you represent your school. You always play with class. I congratulate both teams.”

The 2015 MIAA Division 3 champions pose with their trophy. – Photo by Edie Prescott
The 2015 MIAA Division 3 champions pose with their trophy. – Photo by Edie Prescott


 

Strong start

The Vineyarders came out of the gate solid, with four of five courts winning the first set.

“It’s easier than we thought,” Robert Potter, the proud dad of twins Samantha and Charlotte, said.  “But we can’t take anything for granted.”

Samantha Potter won her first set at first singles 6-1, and Kat Roberts and Lizzie Williamson at second and third singles, respectively, dominated and both won their first sets 6-0.

Charlotte Potter and Josie Iadiccio at first doubles won their first set in tighter competition 6-3, and Madison McBride and Lia Potter at second doubles lost their first set 4-6.

In the second set both Kat and Lizzie were up 3-0 and then Lizzie lost two games in a row. “She’s rattled,” Lizzie’s mom Anne Williamson told The Times.  “She needs to clear her head.”

At one point in the game Lizzie came near the fans to retrieve a ball and mumbled to herself, “horrible footwork.”  A fan quickly piped up, “We don’t remember the footwork we remember the score!”

Martha's Vineyard's Lizzie Williamson returns a shot against Hopedale, Friday in Shrewsbury. — Photo by John Thornton/ Daily Ne
Martha’s Vineyard’s Lizzie Williamson returns a shot against Hopedale, Friday in Shrewsbury. — Photo by John Thornton/ Daily Ne

Lizzie answered the call and solidly returned a serve with a sharp angled ball that her opponent could not catch.  Lizzie went on to win the match 6-0, 6-2.

“It was good,” Lizzie told The Times post-match. “In the beginning my serve was on, but in those two games I lost it wasn’t. I got tired of playing her game and bored of getting into points and I was like, ‘I’m going to get it done.’”

Kat Roberts, whose clutch victory Wednesday propelled the team to the championship round, maintained her dominance in the finals despite the pressure and won 6-0, 6-0.

“It was definitely less stressful than my other matches,” Kat said. “I was more nervous because we had never been here before and it was great to win my match and think we’d pull it out.”

Samantha Potter also won solidly 6-1, 6-0.  “It was a good match,” Samantha told The Times.  “She was very consistent but did not have a lot of pace so I sort of had to create my own. She put up a good fight.”

Both doubles courts were more competitive matches. Charlotte Potter and Josie Iadiccio pulled out the win 6-3, 6-1.

“I think Josie and I just brought out the best in each other,” said Charlotte after her win.  “We supported each other and broke it down and now we’re state champions so that’s pretty cool.”

“She was feeling like she really wanted to win it,” Josie’s mom Terry Lowe told The Times about her daughter’s state of mind on Friday morning.  “They’ve been playing together such a long time, they have had lots of opportunities to practice and to work as a team and communicate on the court and it seems to be working for them.”

Second doubles team Madison McBride and Lia Potter played tough and split sets, but lost 4-6, 6-2, 8-10.  This was only the second time these ladies played together in competition.

Due to time restrictions Madison and Lia had to play their third set as a “super-tiebreaker.”  When a team already has three points, as the Vineyard did, and has technically already won the competition, if a team still on court goes to a

Martha's Vineyard's Samantha Potter returns a shot against Hopedale, Friday in Shrewsbury. — Photo by John Thornton/ Daily Ne
Martha’s Vineyard’s Samantha Potter returns a shot against Hopedale, Friday in Shrewsbury. — Photo by John Thornton/ Daily Ne

third set a super-tiebreaker is played.

A super-tiebreaker is whoever gets to ten first, and wins by two, and it represents a whole set.  A regular tie-breaker is the first to seven.  If the competition score had been 2-2, then the second doubles match would have played a regular third set. In this case the boys’ competition was slated for the courts so the MIAA director needed to clear the field.

“A great way to go out,” Robert Potter said about his two MVRHS graduates Samantha and Charlotte.

“It’s the icing on the cake,” said Josie’s mom Terry Lowe. This fall Samantha is headed to The Air Force Academy, Charlotte is on her way to Stonehill College, and Josie heads south to New York University.

 

Experience gap

The Vineyard girls found themselves playing skilled but younger opponents, including an eighth grader who was matched against Samantha Potter at first singles.

Hopedale is a small school that combines junior and senior high school and plays girls younger than ninth grade. There are no player eligibility restrictions – girls can play all six years if they choose.  Hopedale does not have a junior varsity squad because there are not enough players.

Hopedale’s second and third singles players Megan McLellen and Rachel Szemeth are both freshmen.  Hopedale’s first doubles team Maddie Sparks and Colleen Kencade are both upperclassmen, senior and junior respectively, and at second doubles Jenny Holland is a freshman and Abby O’Neal is an eighth grader.

 

 

 

 

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The Vineyarders play Division 3 north winners Lynnfield High School on Wednesday, in the state semifinals.

The 2015 Division 3 South champions hold their trophy. – Photo by Michael Cummo

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) girls varsity tennis team won the MIAA division three south sectional championship Friday afternoon after beating Dover-Sherborn High School 3-2 on a perfect 75-degree day at the Old Rochester Regional High School courts in Mattapoisett. It is the first time in the school’s history it has advanced this far in post-season play and caps a perfect season.

The team celebrated after their victory.
The team celebrated after their victory.

In true championship fashion, the number one seed beat the number two seed.  The win advances the Vineyarders to the state semifinals.

The Vineyarders next play the Division three north winners, Lynnfield High School, on Wednesday, June 17 at Newton South High School 2:30pm.  If the Vineyard wins the state semifinals, they will advance to the state finals on Wednesday, June 17 at Saint John Shrewsbury High School at 4:15pm.  The winner of The Vineyard versus Lynnfield Monday will play the winner of Hopedale High School (central section champions) versus Lenox High School (west section champions) Wednesday afternoon.

Singles lead the way

Samantha Potter was first off the courts, handily beating her first singles opponent 6-0, 6-2.  Samantha played smart and strong. At 4-2 in the second set she brilliantly executed a flawless drop shot that won the seventh game and brought her lead to 5-2. Given that momentum, her opponent was derailed and Samantha quickly closed out the final game to end the second set.

“She was really good,” Samantha told The Times after her win. “She hit the ball really hard so I just had to keep it in play one ball longer and make sure I didn’t make a mistake. It was a good match.”

On the doubles courts the Vineyard ladies fought hard but lost to their opponents. At that point Dover-Sherborn was ahead 2-1.

Charlotte Potter and Josie Iadicicco at first doubles lost 3-6, 3-6 but had a multitude of outstanding points. The competition was tough and the sun was getting hot.

“We didn’t end up winning, but it was a really great match,” said Charlotte. “We battled back from 5-0, 5-0 both times to get 3-and-3.”

Alison Daigle and Madison McBride at second doubles also lost 2-6, 3-6.

It then came down to the remaining two singles matches. All Vineyard eyes were on Kat Roberts and Lizzie Williamson at second and third singles, respectively.

Vineyard singles players, from left, Kat Roberts, Samantha Potter and Lizzie Williamson after winning the trophy. Photo by Edie Prescott
Vineyard singles players, from left, Kat Roberts, Samantha Potter and Lizzie Williamson after winning the trophy. Photo by Edie Prescott

Lizzie finished first, winning 6-4, 6-0.

“She was unbelievable,” Lizzie told The Times about her opponent. “She was the best person I’ve played this year.”

Kat, Kat, Kat

Soon after Kat Roberts also pulled out the win 6-4, 6-1 and then the team, coaches, and parents jubilantly ran onto the court to celebrate chanting, “Kat, Kat, Kat, Kat!”

“Oh my Gosh,” said head coach Nina Bramhall, who got a bit emotional after the team victory was clinched. “We all got on great, they are a fabulous group of girls, and they rose to a lot of challenges. I never really doubted it. We’re thrilled.”

“They’ve never gone this far,” Samantha and Charlotte’s father Robert Potter said. “So it’s really special with the girls going to college.”

Mr. Potter said both of his girls will try to play tennis in college. “Samantha is headed to the Air Force Academy and is there for academics, but she is going to try and walk on.  And Charlotte is going to try and walk on at Stonehill College.”

Unlike the quarter-final game Wednesday against  Cohasset High School that was marked by a display of poor sportsmanship when many of  the opposing team members refused to shake hands, the Dover-Sherborn players and coaches were gracious in defeat.

 

 

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Results from the April competition pushed Willow Wunsch and Tim Roberts into first place overall.

Maddy Moore, left, and Zach Bresnick weigh fruit on their scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

The “final four” tipped the scales in the engineering challenge at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) on April 9. It was the final competition in which the cumulative scores would determine the grand winners of the yearlong competition.

Four teams, 10 students in all, pitted their wits and problem-solving skills in an intense 45-minute mental marathon to see who could build the most accurate produce scale.

Freshman Elizabeth O’Brien and sophomore David Packer took first place in the April challenge. Willow Wunsch and Tim Roberts, both seniors, triumphed as the female and male grand winners for the year, based on cumulative points earned in the monthly competitions held since last fall. Tim did not participate in last week’s challenge.

Elizabeth O'Brien and David Packer won the April challenge by creating the most accurate produce scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Elizabeth O’Brien and David Packer won the April challenge by creating the most accurate produce scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

In addition to Elizabeth and David, the other teams included senior Maddy Moore and juniors Connor Downing and Zach Bresnick; and juniors Chris Aring and Jared Livingston. Willow teamed up with seniors Kevin Montambault and Andrew Ruimerman.

The engineering challenge program, now in its third year, is the brainchild of chemistry teacher and science department head Natalie Munn. Its goal is to give students an opportunity to experience the work process of an engineering design challenge and to collaborate with one another to get the job done well.

 

On your mark, get set, think

The April challenge was to build a produce scale using two aluminum pie pans, string, and a six-inch spring hung from a ring stand clamped to a table, and to create a system of measurement, using a ruler and a file folder that could be cut up to create a grid to indicate different weights.

In order to calibrate their homemade scales, students weighed canned goods of assorted weights and sizes with an electronic scale. The students had 45 minutes to complete their scales, which would then be tested by weighing a bag of four apples and a bag of four oranges. Their measurements would be compared with those done using the electronic scale, to see whose homemade scale was the most accurate.

Ms. Munn kicked off the competition at 2:20 pm in her classroom science lab. The students sprang into action, and had their scales built in about 20 minutes. All of the teams used a paper grid behind the spring to mark different weights, but each took a somewhat different approach.

One team used the top of the spring as the reference point for marking various weights, while other teams fashioned a paper tab to attach to the spring, similar to the arrow seen on produce scales that points at the weight.

Ms. Munn suggested that the more items the students weighed, the better off they might be in calibrating their scales. As it turned out, however, Elizabeth and David weighed the fewest items, yet their scale took first place with a total weight difference of only 11 grams, compared with the electronic scale weights. Chris and Jared, who weighed more items than any of the teams to calibrate their scale, came in second with a total difference of 24 grams.

Asked by The Times what she enjoys about the engineering challenge, Elizabeth said, “It’s fun.”

Her teammate David agreed. “Yes, and it’s a good group of kids.”

Although there is some overlap in challenge participants with members of the school’s engineering club, Ms. Munn said, it attracts students with a variety of interests. Jared, for example, missed a few challenges because he had a role in the school play. He and his partner Chris had worked together on several past challenges.

“It can be a bit stressful, but it gives us a chance to be creative,” Jared said. “Because if you look at the projects, none of them are the same. Last time, we had to make brooms out of hay bales. It was really messy because there was hay everywhere, but it was really fun because of the challenge of it.”

Willow has been a regular participant and winner of past challenges since her sophomore year. Although science is not her favorite subject, she said, she kept coming back for the engineering challenge for the same reason as her fellow students: “It’s just something fun to do.”

Kevin Montambault, center, and Willow Wunsch work together to calibrate their scale. Maddy Moore, left, and Zach Bresnick weigh fruit on their scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Kevin Montambault, center, and Willow Wunsch work together to calibrate their scale.

 

A mental sport of sorts

The engineering challenge program is classified under school clubs as an extracurricular activity. “There’s no grade; anybody that comes, it’s just because they enjoy it,” Ms. Munn said. “Clubs also fill a niche for some kids who may not be active in sports.”

Another plus of the challenge program, Ms. Munn said, is that it offers students the opportunity for a different type of science-oriented competition from the yearly science fair.

“I like the science fair, but I love that the engineering challenge is thinking on your feet, which is a different skill than planning a project,” she said.

Ms. Munn said she thinks students enjoy that the challenges require no advance preparation. They can just show up and jump in, without fear of the outcome.

“Trying something and being OK with it not working, I love that,” she said. “Whereas a lot of the classroom projects tend to be a little more heavily planned, you can let them find their own way.”

Ms. Munn said the engineering challenge program also has fostered great professional collaboration with several other teachers.

“Seeing the different approaches teams take has been so interesting to me,” science teacher Anna Cotton said. “We do the challenge as an afterschool activity, and it’s a club and it’s fun, but then I think about how it could work in school, too. I get a lot of ideas that I’ve used in my chemistry class.”

 

Choosing the challenges

When asked where she gets her ideas for the challenges, Ms. Munn said, “Usually I just kind of pick something that’s an everyday object. We try not to do premade lab types of projects, but find something that feels authentic.”

Projects have included making a flashlight during hurricane season, a confetti launcher before New Year’s Eve, noise-reducing headphones, a broom, and a shovel.

“You want something students can do within the time period, and you want something that’s easily measurable, like sound or light output,” Ms. Munn said. “I don’t tend to do a lot of things that I find online because they don’t fit the time slot, or you have to provide too much guidance.”

“The materials are really simple, the concepts are very clear, and the students can mix it up in a lot of different ways to find their own authentic solutions,” computer technology Chris Connors noted.

 

Year-end results

The competition wrapped up in an hour, and Ms. Munn quickly tallied up the final results. In addition to Willow and Tim, winners (in order by number of total points) included Eli Hanschka and Elizabeth O’Brien, second place; Christopher Aring, Zachary Bresnick, Connor Downing, Russell Shapiro, Maddy Moore, and Ellie Reagan, third place; and Kevin Montambault and Emily Moore, honorable mention.

 

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The sixty-six exhibits featured topics from the theory of relativity to an automatic dog scratcher.

Science fair winners, from l to r: Olivia Jacobs, third place; Ellie O'Callaghan, second place (partner Arden Bezahler not pictured); and Nils Aldeborgh, first place. – Photo by Natalie Munn

A three-dimensional light cube created by Nils Aldeborgh took the grand prize at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 16th Annual Science and Engineering Fair held Saturday morning.

The popular event, held in the school cafeteria, drew a large crowd who viewed 30 engineering projects and 36 investigative projects in the categories of chemistry, biology, physics, earth science, and environmental science. The fair also included a wind turbine engineering competition.

Nils, a junior and first-time entrant in the science fair, told The Times in a telephone conversation after the fair that his win came as a surprise. “I thought I did a pretty good job, but I didn’t expect first place,” he said.

Nils’s light cube contains 64 LED lights, installed onto a board and plugged into an Arduino microcontroller. It is programmed with a computer to create three-dimensional images. Nils said his project stemmed from an interest in finding out what other people were doing with the microcontroller after learning to use it last year.

“The light cube kept coming up when I looked on the Internet, and I thought it would be cool,” he said. “I decided to concentrate on how to make the most efficient version, to see how simple I could make it.”

The second place grand prize went to Arden Bezahler and Ellie O’Callaghan for their project on the effects of different soap bases. Olivia Jacobs took the third place grand prize for her project on simulating an artificial pancreas, which she said was inspired by her curiosity about how an insulin pump works for diabetics.

The three grand prize awards were presented in honor of former Tisbury Waterways president Dr. James H. Porter. The grand prize winners, who scored the top overall scores among the first place winners, received cash prizes of $200 for first place, $175 for second, and $150 for third.

Additional awards were also given to first, second and third place winners in the engineering design and investigative categories.

The wind turbine competition was open to physics students. Nina Harris and Zachary Bresnick teamed up to win first place for designing the wind turbine with the best energy output, as evaluated by its performance in a wind tunnel.

Wide-ranging projects

The projects covered the waterfront and then some. Patrick Best and Pearl Vercruysse came up with a plan to restore eelgrass in Martha’s Vineyard coastal ponds, following improvements in water quality.

Chris Aring dazzled fair-goers with an augmented reality sand table. It allows users to manipulate sand to represent different topographical formations and to study how they are affected by changes, such as erosion and water, for example. A corresponding computer engineering program projects the images and changes back onto the table in real time.

Lucas Dutton came up with a way to make his enjoyment of bike riding pay off. He modified a bicycle-mounted headlight and tail light generator assembly so that energy from peddling goes into a converter and charges his cell phone.

Daniel Gaines examined how to construct a more efficient hydrogen fuel cell, which he explained creates energy by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. He experimented with adding different minerals to the water to see which ones would cause the most water to electrolyze, and found baking soda worked the best.

Olivia Smith built her own solar hot water heater. She said it took her three tries to get the design right, and some trial and error to determine what materials to use. Most of them she found at home, such as PVC pipe, acrylic mirror, and sheetmetal, thanks to her dad, who is a plumber. She said the winter weather has made it difficult to test the heater’s efficiency and is looking forward to testing it further this summer.

Pet interests

Family dogs provided the inspiration for two projects. Lucy Ulyatt and Whitney Schroeder built an automatic dog feeder. It features a timer that can be set for multiple feedings, and a motor that is calibrated to dispense the desired amount of dry kibble.

To cope with the demands of his golden retriever that wants constant petting, Elias Fhagen-Smith designed an automatic dog scratcher. He mounted a dog brush to a motorized rotating arm that is triggered when the canine steps onto a pressure mat, retrofitted from a Halloween fright device.

Inspired by popular crime scene forensics television shows, Lauryn Bond and her twin brother Nicholas investigated what factors affect differences in internal and external temperatures in determining time of death. They used oranges instead of dead bodies as their test subjects, however.

Justine Cassel said she decided to expand her interest in steampunk fashion, which incorporates modern styles with elements from the Victorian era, to engineering a practical and attractive piece of steampunk décor. The end result was a shelving unit made of PVC piping purchased from Ace Hardware and recycled materials she found at home, including mahogany plywood, old metal gauges, and her great-grandfather’s barometer. Justine stood next to her project dressed in steampunk fashion, complete with driving/flying goggles.

Mindful of the growing excess of used plastic shopping bags that litter the landscape worldwide, Willa Vigneault came up with a way to put them to good use. She fused 55 of them together to create a three-ply tarp. She said although she found it difficult to get the bags to melt evenly, she hopes to perfect her technique so that it could be easily accomplished by people in developing countries or by refugees to create shelters.

Awards and prizes

Science teacher and fair coordinator Jackie Hermann emceed the awards ceremony at the fair’s conclusion. She thanked the students for the countless number of hours they put into the projects, and their teachers, parents and families for their support.

Ms. Hermann also thanked the 36 people representing local organizations, as well as a variety of science and engineering backgrounds and interests, who acted as judges. In addition, she acknowledged the many local businesses and organizations that donated refreshments, award money, gift certificates and other door prizes.

All fair winners who chose to be eligible for the South Shore Regional Science Fair at Bridgewater State College by completing the necessary paperwork at the start of their projects received a letter offering them the opportunity to attend on March 14.

First place engineering project awards ($150): Nils Aldeborgh; Arden Bezahler and Ellie O’Callaghan; Olivia Jacobs.

First place investigative project awards ($150): Maggie Burke (The Ability of Sponges to Filter Nitrogen from Water); Sam Bresnick and Sam Rollins (How pH Levels Affect Oyster Shells); Harrison Dorr and Nicolas Andre (Acceleration of a Magnet in Copper); Nicolas Andre and Miles Albert (How Does Heat Affect the Adhesiveness of Glue?).

Second place engineering project awards ($125): Christopher Aring (Augmented Reality Sand Table); David Packer (TV Remote with a Speaker); Willa Vigneault (Strength of Fused Plastic Bag Sheeting).

Second place investigative project awards ($125): Julia Felix and Kat Roberts (The Effect Temperature has on Dissolved Oxygen in Water); Miles Jordi (Nutrient Enhancing Growth); Julian Hermann (How Does Water Temperature Affect Plant Growth?).

Third place engineering project awards ($100): Sophia McCarron (What is the Optimal House Position?); Daniel Gaines (Fuel Cells); Ethan Donovan (Arduino); Peter Ruimerman (Hydro Electric Power in Menemsha).

Third place investigative project awards ($100): Rose Engler ((Impact of Shellfish Decomposition on pH Levels in Brackish Water); Curtis Fisher (Traveling the Speed of Time); Matteus Scheffer and Jack Sierputoski (Shellfish – Filtration of the Future); Cooper Bennett and John Gonsalves (Effect of Heat on the Growth of Yeast).

Wind Turbine Design and Engineering Competition: first place ($150), Zachary Bresnick and Nina Harris; second place ($125) Jack Reagan; third place ($100) Sara Poggi and Samantha Hargy.

Special Topic Awards

The David Brand Award for an outstanding project related to earth science: Maggie Burke.

Island Grown Initiative Award for a project that focuses on agricultural systems and techniques that support biodiversity or that address traditional or historic Island agriculture: Lila Norris and Zachary Danz (Milk vs. Water).

Cape Light Compact Award for an outstanding energy-related project: Daniel Gaines.

Lagoon Pond Association Award for a project that addresses a water quality issue with application to the protection of Martha’s Vineyard water resources: Emily Moore (Creating a Tank to Sustain the Life of a Jelly).

Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute Award for an outstanding marine or coastal science project that might include any aspect of science, fishing, engineering or conservation: Patrick Best and Pearl Vercruysse (Eelgrass Restoration in Vineyard Coastal Ponds).

Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association Award for a project that focuses on increasing the awareness and understanding of aspects of our marine environment, provided in memory of Donald K. Boyd: Rose Engler.

Sustainability Awards, sponsored by the Munn family, presented to the top projects by a female and male that involve recycling or reuse of materials for a new purpose, or that involve methods of reducing energy or materials consumption: Willa Vigneault and Addison Geiger (Electric Motorcycle).

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation for a project that may benefit the environment and ecological management of these lands: Christopher Aring.

Ms. Hermann notified The Times on Monday that some of the winners were inadvertently left off the list announced at Saturday’s awards ceremony: first place investigative project, Harrison Dorr and Jared Foster; third place investigative project, Matteus Scheffer and Jack Sierputoski; third place engineering project, Peter Ruimerman; Lagoon Pond Award, Emily Moore.

The team that finished in first with 48 Latches consisted of Tim Roberts, Russell Shapiro and Eli Hanschka. —Photo courtesy of Ruda Stone

Each month, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students are given the opportunity to compete in an engineering challenge. The goal of the challenge, according to school officials, is to give students an opportunity to experience the work process of engineering a design challenge, and to collaborate with one another to get the job done well, in a different competition than the yearly science fair.

Engineer-Challenge-winning-design.jpg
The winning design. —Photo courtesy of Ruda Stone

The students are issued a design challenge at the meet. Working in teams of two or three, they have 45 minutes to complete the task. Then the designs are evaluated to determine the meet winners.

The October challenge was to create a lockbox with the most locks or latches to hold a package of M&Ms. They were given cardboard, string, paperclips, wooden sticks, and rubber bands. Latches that were tied or tape-based were not allowed. The students had to use at least three different types of latches that were also re-latchable.

First place went to Eli Hanschka, Tim Roberts, and Russell Shapiro (48 latches); second place to Kevin Montambault, Peter Ruimerman, and Willow Wunsch (40 latches); and third place to Maddy Moore, Charlie Morano, and Ellie Reagan (38 latches).

All members of winning teams accumulate points over the season and are eligible to become grand winners of the challenge at the end of the school year.

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Island life on Vanuatu.

On the Island of Malekula, in the far away nation of Vanuatu, Vineyarder Laura Jernegan teaches English to children, and trains others to become teachers. (Courtesy Laura Jernegan).
Malekula is in Vanuatu. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Malekula is in Vanuatu. (Courtesy Google Maps)

Laura Jernegan was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard and graduated from MVRHS in 2009. After graduating from American University in Washington, D.C., in 2013, she signed up for the Peace Corps and was posted to Malekula in Vanuatu in January 2014.

Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014.

Laura holds a baby on Malekula, in Vanuatu, where she's working with the Peace Corps.
Laura holds a baby on Malekula, in Vanuatu, where she’s working with the Peace Corps.

Around 5:30 am the sounds of roosters, dogs, and church bells combine to create the surprisingly peaceful melody that prompts me out of bed every morning. After a little stretch and a few minutes of enjoying the sounds of the morning from my hammock, I unzip my mosquito net and touch my feet down to the cool concrete floor.

My day has begun. From there I turn on some tunes — these days it’s usually Ayla Nereo or the Velvet Underground — and head out to my bush kitchen to build a fire so I can boil water and make some coffee. From there my day will go in a variety of directions, but never fails to provide new adventure, a few laughs and the ever-present reminder that my life on Malekula — the second biggest island in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu — is really, really great.

This is how I start most of my days in Vanuatu, but one Sunday morning I was motivated to go for a run that ended up taking me on an adventure that truly encompasses the life, culture, and beauty that exists everywhere on this island paradise.

Laura Jernegan and friends. (Courtesy Laura Jernegan).
Laura Jernegan and friends. (Courtesy Laura Jernegan).

After climbing out of my hammock — Peace Corps gave me a mattress, but I prefer sleeping in my hammock — I changed into my culturally appropriate running gear (long pants and a T-shirt), laced up, and headed out to the road. There’s one road that runs through my village connecting my community to Lakatoro, the provincial center on Malekula — approximately two and a half to three hours in the back of a truck, Monday–Friday only. The road is dirt and full of holes and stones of varying sizes, so as I run I have to be sure to keep my eyes on the ground or else suffer another fall that will be just as painful and embarrassing as the first. It’s hard to do anything in Vanuatu without everyone in the village, or even island, knowing. While this sounds like an affront to privacy, it’s really not. Lacking the ability to communicate constantly and affordably as in the United States, “coconut wireless” carries news of births, deaths, family updates, and scandals that often get skewed throughout the villages and islands of Vanuatu.

For example, in May I purchased a goat from a nearby village. I live in the middle of a coconut plantation, so I figured the goat could just live in the plantation, frolicking with the other goats and enjoying all the grass it could want for two years. Before I leave I will ask one of my host brothers to help me kill it, and we will all roast it on the beach as a farewell dinner. I didn’t mention my goat purchase to the other volunteers on my island, but about a month later I got a call from one telling me that I was the talk of his village (which is about a five-hour truck ride south) — the white girl from Northwest Malekula who bought a goat. I find this endearing because I know that the only reason that this story got around was because the idea of a white girl buying a goat was actually one of the craziest things that happened recently and everyone wanted everyone else to know.

By the end of one recent Sunday, Laura had four eggs given to her by locals she'd seen on her walk/run around the island of Malekula.
By the end of one recent Sunday, Laura had four eggs given to her by locals she’d seen on her walk/run around the island of Malekula.

So I run with my eyes on the ground to make sure I don’t fall — wanting to avoid the painful scrapes more than the rumors — and decide to go see one of my host sisters. My sister, Makenah, is pregnant, and her husband is currently working as a seasonal laborer in New Zealand — a popular and very fruitful option for Ni-Vanuatu men (and some women) who are able to save up enough for the plane ticket — so she ends up working much harder to clean, cook, and take care of her 3-year-old, Samio, than an 8-month-pregnant woman should. I arrive at her house in about 15 minutes, where she greets me by handing me a freshly picked mandarin and telling me that I work too hard.

My favorite, and perhaps the most important, element of Vanuatu culture is called storian (literally story-on). To storian you simply spel (rest) and chat about anything and everything. Men and women in Vanuatu work very hard, taking care of their gardens, which provide all the food they could ever need, from avocados and mangoes to yams and cassavas depending on the season, to raising sometimes as many as nine children, so when they take the time to spel they just relax on a mat woven from natangura leaves and talk. Sometimes there is big news from the capital, but most times storian focuses on the weather, work being done in the village, or coconut-wireless messages about who is getting married or news of a new truck that will be servicing our village.

This Sunday morning the storian focused on me telling my sister not to work too hard and her telling me how excited she is for her husband to come back. Of course we also talked about how it hadn’t rained in a few months, and how excited we are for the rainy season to come to fill our rain tanks with drinking water and bring life back into our crops. After about an hour of storian I decided it was time to head back and get on with all the chores I had to accomplish before the end of the day. As I was about to begin running back to my house, my sister ran into her kitchen and came back with two freshly laid eggs. Eggs make me really excited, because if I want to buy them I have to ride into Lakatoro and pay about $10 round-trip, so when someone gives me eggs it’s a good day. Of course, acquiring these eggs meant I wouldn’t be running back home, so instead I made a pouch out of the front of my T-shirt and carefully walked through the coconut plantation and out onto the main road with two local eggs in tow.

A few minutes down the road I ran into one of my brothers-in-law and was swiftly carried into another storian session. He asked me if I would be willing to help his daughter apply for scholarships to go to university in New Zealand or Australia. She is currently in secondary school at one of the best schools on Malekula, and has been at the top of her class for the past few years. She is passionate about becoming a doctor, and is ready to work hard to achieve this goal. As the sole “whiteman” in the village, I am part of conversations like these often, and my responses are always the same. Of course I’m glad to help in any way that I can, but that’s all I can do — help. As a Peace Corps Volunteer I’m a partner in sustainable development; unfortunately, I can’t just make money appear. My primary assignment is as an English language teacher/teacher trainer, but I am glad to help with anything that my community wants. Luckily the people in my community understand this because I am the fourth Peace Corps Volunteer they have had, so they know that whatever kind of project we venture in on, they are equal partners. This is important for ownership as well as accountability, because once I am gone, the projects I work on need to continue — sustainability is the only goal.

After another 45 minutes of storian with my brother-in-law, ending with me telling him I would be calling my program manager in the Peace Corps office to ask him about scholarships to study abroad, I got ready to head back home. As I was turning to go, he asked me to wait. He ran into his kitchen and came back with two freshly laid eggs. I laughed to myself at how beautifully humorous this was, added them to my T-shirt egg pouch and headed back down the road. Now that I was cradling four eggs, I took my time walking back home. About 30 minutes later I arrived at home. It was now 9 am.

What should have been a casual 30-minute run ended up being a 2.5-hour run/walk adventure filled with family, good storian, and the acquisition of four freshly laid eggs. Long Vanuatu laef hemi olsem nao — in Bislama, “In Vanuatu, life is like this.” Whenever I go anywhere, I try not to have an agenda or a time limit. When walking to the well to get water, I always leave time for spur-of-the-moment storian, and when I walk to school in the morning I am always sure to leave at least 15 minutes early so I can stop to chat with anyone I meet along the way. Understanding “island time” is the key to success in Vanuatu, and is encompassed in the local saying Sipos yu ras bae yu kras, or “If you rush you will crash.” Don’t rush things — if it’s important, it will happen.

It has been only eight months since I arrived in Vanuatu, but my experiences have already instilled invaluable positive changes in my overall mental and physical well-being that any other post-graduate experience just could not compare to. I will probably never speed again in my life — whether it be while driving, spending time with someone, or deciding on the next step in my future. Whatever I would be rushing to do can wait — being careless of the opportunities or dangers on the road along the way can only lead to accidents and missed opportunities.

I came to Vanuatu with the typical Western development-worker mentality that it was my job to change my community, forgetting that with this I would be changed as well. Life isn’t always easy, but when I have to struggle is when I learn the most. This isn’t something specific to my life in Vanuatu; it’s something I believe we must acknowledge every day, wherever we are, so that when our time on earth is over we can be confident that whatever we did, we did it right — without regrets, avoidable accidents, or missed opportunities. Laef hemi olsem nao.

A conversation with Laura Jernegan

Tell us about the Peace Corps application process. You apply online, then wait to be contacted for an interview. After the interview you get a nomination, and then wait to hear where you’re being sent, what kind of work you’re going to be doing, and when you’ll be leaving. You don’t have much control over any of these things, except for your work/volunteer experiences, which funnel you into a job placement. I was at work at Katama Airfield in July 2013 when I received an email saying I’d be going to Vanuatu in January 2014.

How’s the weather? Can you drink the water? Weather is subtropical — really, really hot and rainy from November to March, then still very hot but dry from March to November. My drinking water comes from rain tanks at my school, but the only other rain source is a well where everyone else in the village goes for water. Once our rain tanks are dry, I use the well water but filter it through a water filter given to me by Peace Corps.

Does anyone there know where Martha’s Vineyard is? No, but it’s always great when they ask where I’m from and I get to tell them I’m from a small island too. I joke that growing up on an island prepared me for life on Malekula, but really that would be far less than accurate. Besides being used to taking a boat or plane to get home, not much could have prepared me for life here. They are always astounded when I tell them that no, my island doesn’t have coconut plantations or papaya trees everywhere, or that the water is pretty cold most of the year, so swimming isn’t an everyday thing. Being able to share information about my life on Martha’s Vineyard has been a really special part of life here because for Ni-Vanuatu people, it’s hard to think about life on any other kind of island. My connection to the Vineyard has only intensified since settling into life on this very beautiful but very different island paradise, but I know that it will last for the rest of my life.

Follow Laura’s story at laurajergs.wordpress.com.

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Athletes were on the field running, jumping, kicking and sweating.

The football team takes a brief water break during an early morning hell week practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Cummo) — Photo by Michael Cummo

Several hundred Island high school athletes are catching their breath as pre-season practices wind down in advance of competitive play next week.

While pre-season doesn’t include the “Hell Week” of two-a-day practices common a decade ago, coaches here push their charges with two or more hours of conditioning and drills to prepare often under-manned squads for Eastern Athletic Conference play.

Football coach Don Herman, in his 32nd year, pushed play repetition in the early going with QB Mike Mussell returning after missing a season with a thumb injury. With only 50 candidates for the varsity and JV programs, Mr. Herman is maximizing skills and minimizing the potential for injury. “The fact is that most injuries occur in practice, not in games, and the days of using JV players as tackling dummies is long past,” he said.

Firs-year soccer coach Esteban Aranzabes has installed a system he learned in his native Uruguay and which served him well as coach of the Island’s U-18 squad. “The game begins in the locker room, not on the field. We stress constant movement in practice for conditioning and drills. Players move 80 percent of the time in games, we want to simulate that in practice. We use drills that stress a unitized team effort, including walking to the field in two lines,” he said.

Cross-country and track coach Joe Schroeder, in his 27th season, has learned over the years that the key to preparation lies in mental preparedness and goal-setting. “Cross-country is more of a mental sport and a team sport than many realize,” he said. “The kids are better prepared when they come in pre-season. They have to prepare themselves for the course. This sport requires athletes to be mentally strong. We’re not memorizing plays. Our work is goal-setting and belief in self, understanding that the gap in distance between first place and fifth place is important to the team, for example.”

The first games of the season begin next week. The varsity and junior varsity golf teams play Somerset Berkley Regional High School on Tuesday at 2:45 pm at Farm Neck golf club. Both the boys and girls soccer teams play on Wednesday, with the boys travelling to Nauset Regional High School for a 4 pm game and the girls taking on Nauset at home at 3 pm.

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Ty Hobbs is the new career and vocational technical education department head at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. (Photo Courtesy Ty Hobbs) — Photo courtesy of Ty Hobbs

Robert “Ty” Hobbs exchanged one island for another when he joined the staff at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) on July 1 as the new career and vocational technical education department director. Mr. Hobbs, who owns a home in Petersburg, Alaska, on Mitkof Island, previously worked for a year as the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program manager for that state’s department of education.

“There’s a difference between vocational education and CTE,” Mr. Hobbs told The Times in a telephone interview last week. “CTE is really about modern, current, academically infused learning, and that’s what we want to do here.”

Before moving to Alaska, Mr. Hobbs worked at Greater Lowell Technical High School. He taught computer science engineering and electronics engineering for seven years, before moving into administration as the technology department chairman for eight years.

Mr. Hobbs said he has owned his home in Alaska for 11 years and had been wanting to move there, so the state education job in Juneau gave him that opportunity. Although he was told that Alaska had plans to make its CTE program similar to the one in Massachusetts, Mr. Hobbs said it didn’t come to fruition.

“Working for the state of Alaska was kind of like working for the Registry of Motor Vehicles,” he said “It wasn’t really why I’m in education. I can do all the paperwork and everything that needs to be done, but I just prefer to be working with teachers and students.”

Although Mr. Hobbs had planned to make a one-way move to Alaska, the opportunity at MVRHS brought him full circle, back to the Bay State.

When asked about his background, Mr. Hobbs said he started his career in education in 1998, when he was 36, after gaining extensive technician work experience in applied technology and applied engineering.

“When I was in the classroom, and then in administrative jobs that I’ve been in, I feel like I really understood vocational work and what it means, and how to make money,” he said.

After joining the U.S. Navy at age 17, Mr. Hobbs served in the engineering department on the U.S.S. Georgia, a nuclear ballistic missile submarine now deployed as a cruise missile submarine. After his Navy service, he ran the nuclear reactor at UMass Lowell for about six years, and then worked overseas dismantling chemical weapons for Raytheon Company.

Mr. Hobbs started teaching electronics and computer science classes in 1988. By that time, he was a licensed stationary engineer working in the power industry. His job involved installing ozone generators to purify water, all over the country, for a division of Boston Edison Company.

With all of that experience under his belt before entering education, Mr. Hobbs said, “I feel like I can really help kids learn about how to take what they should learn in school and apply it to the workplace.”

Future plans

Asked if he has any plans yet for his department, Mr. Hobbs said that during his first year at the high school he wants to engage in dialogue with teachers and students about what learning really is, and to familiarize himself with the school’s culture.

He said that one area he does plan to address is the high school’s work study program.

“My intention is that we’re going to add a few things to make it more robust on the student’s end,” he said. “We’re not doing simple recall. What we want to do is talk about what the kids should be learning on the job. There are a lot of things, and it can vary. Not every kid is going to be the same; it’s going to be based on where they are.”

Mr. Hobbs said he would like to convey a message to the Island business community to help him boost the work study program.

“Any employer or potential employer, I would ask that they please call me, and let’s talk about placing a student,” he said.

Mr. Hobbs has created a Twitter account, vineyarderjobs, and is working on linking it to a blog site he is developing, as well as the school’s website. He said it will serve as “information central” for all interested students, parents, vocational teachers, and employers.

“Really, I want to learn about communicating with everybody as much as possible, to find out how can we help and do better,” Mr. Hobbs said. “I’m looking for any and all feedback from anybody.”

In the meantime, Mr. Hobbs, who had never been to Martha’s Vineyard before, is learning about the Island. Since he was already used to island life in Alaska and taking a ferry twice a week there, “I have not had any shocks here,” he said.

“I’m very happy, and I really like what I see here,” Mr. Hobbs added.

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Martha's Vineyard Regional High School will have a new high school assistant principal, Elliott Bennett, when school starts. — File photo by Janet Hefler

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School science teacher Elliott Bennett of Edgartown has been promoted to assistant principal. A science teacher since 2000, Ms. Bennett fills a position left vacant by Matthew Malowski when he was appointed adjustment/guidance counselor for the high school’s therapeutic support and alternative education programs.

Elliot Bennett
Elliot Bennett

Ms. Bennett joins Andrew Berry as one of two assistant principals. She will oversee 11th and12th grade students. Her duties also will include handling discipline issues, coordinating independent study and senior projects, and evaluating teachers.

Ms. Bennett has been a classroom teacher for 25 years. She has primarily taught biology at the high school and was the science department’s chairman for the last three years. She also served as the faculty advisor to the high school’s popular forensics club.

She said she decided to apply for the assistant principal job to gain a new perspective in the field of education.

“I was very happy in the classroom, but saw the coming of Gil Traverso as the new principal as being an opportunity to work in a leadership role and also help in the transition,” Ms. Bennett said.

Although she will miss the contact she had with students in the classroom, Ms. Bennett said she plans to keep in touch with them in her new role.

“I think it’s important for administrators to be visible to students and for them to recognize assistant principals are there for all the students, not just if they get in trouble, but as another adult there to help them in the school or as a mentor,” she said.

What many of her former students may miss most as the result of her move from the classroom is not having access to her pet gecko, Eric, Ms. Bennett said. Since he is not allowed in her new office, he has gone into retirement at her home.

Ms. Bennett’s two children will join her at the high school in the fall. Her daughter, Caley, 17, will be a senior, her son, Cooper, 14, an incoming freshman.

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Martha’s Vineyard students must now choose whether to retake the exams.

— File photo by Susan Safford

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students must retake advanced placement (AP) exams based on an allegation that improper seating during the testing could have led to cheating. Despite appeals by Island school officials that there were no improprieties during the exam, the state’s College Board invalidated the results of tests taken this spring and will require a retest by Island students.

Acting MVRHS principal Matt D’Andrea sent a letter to parents Wednesday, notifying them that students would need to re-take AP exams in U.S. History, English Language and Composition, English Literature and Composition, and World History.

“Based on an anonymous allegation of testing impropriety to Educational Testing Service, it was determined that during the AP testing there was a violation of one of the seating protocols for test security,” Mr. D’Andrea explained in his letter. “Consequently, the College Board has invalidated the results of the exam. The school has aggressively appealed this decision, arguing that despite the one oversight, the testing environment was secure and that test results are valid. Nevertheless, the appeal was denied.”

To help students prepare for retaking the exams, Mr. D’Andrea said the high school has arranged two-hour study sessions for them to review material with the course instructors the week before the retests, which will be conducted at MVRHS.

“Please be advised that all AP test retakes are optional,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “If your child chooses to not take the exam, your child’s AP designation with final grade will still be on his/her transcript, and the initial fee will be refunded.”

Mr. D’Andrea apologized for the error on the school’s part and for the frustration and inconvenience the College Board’s decision creates for students.

“I appreciate how hard these students have worked to prepare for the exam, and we will be sure that the retake, along with any future exams, will be successfully coordinated following all of the College Board’s testing protocols,” his letter stated. “Please accept my sincere apology for this error, as I am aware of the effect that this decision has on your family.”

The College Board is a not-for-profit organization made up of more than 6,000 educational institutions worldwide, according to the College Board website. It helps students prepare for transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and success, including the SAT exam and Advanced Placement Program.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies, while in high school. Many four-year colleges and universities, but not all, grant students college credit or allow them advanced placement in a higher course level, based on their successful AP exam scores.

The College Board contracts the Educational Testing Service, also a non-profit organization, to administer the Advanced Placement Program.

For some students, the retesting will be more than an inconvenience. In an email to The Times Friday, Louis de Geofroy of West Tisbury described the complications.

“In my daughter’s case, she will be out of the country,” Mr. de Geofroy said. “The AP exam is a test for college credit and the culmination of a year’s worth of study. This is a huge problem even for students who will be able to take the scheduled retest because they will have to revisit all the material in the entire course to prep again.”

Mr. de Geofroy also questioned the College Board’s decision, based on the testing experiences his two daughters have described to him.

“Both my older daughter, in college, and the one who took the test this year say that the seating plan required by the testing service is actually worse as far as cheating goes. Someone needs to be held accountable and perhaps enough bad press would cause the testing agency to reconsider.”

Those who wish to retake the exams must call Ruda Stone, administrative assistant to the principal, at 508-693-1033, ext. 126, or email her at rstone@mvyps.org by July 3, according to Mr. D’Andrea.

The study sessions will be held between July 7 and 10, from 9 to 11 am as follows: World History, July 7, Room 415; U.S. History, July 8, Room 102; English Literature and Composition, July 9, Room 515; and English Language and Composition, July 10, Room 413.

Exam retakes are scheduled on July 14-17 from 8 am to noon in the high school’s library conference room as follows: World History, July 14; U.S. History, July 15; English Literature and Composition, July 16; and English Language and Composition, July 17.