Updated at 3:17 pm
Project Vine, a community-based learning program for students enrolled at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), dedicated an outdoor space just outside the Project Vine office at the high school. Project Vine students, parents, and teachers gathered for their end-of-the-year celebration on Monday night, and capped it off by unveiling the space, which will be known as the Jake Sequoia Baird Memorial Outdoor Classroom. Jake Baird, who died in a tragic car accident last year, was a student enrolled in the Project Vine program.
The new space was a student effort. They constructed a beautiful wooden bench, and engraved it with a quote from “The Outsiders” that simply reads “Stay gold.” Teacher Kyle Crossland and the horticulture class planted flowers around the space, brightening up what used to be an area plagued by a chainlink fence, which Jake told people he hated.
Jake’s grandmother, Jill Woollacott, with whom he lived with for 12 years, gave a brief speech thanking everyone at the unveiling, alongside Jake’s sister Rya.
“This space is incredible,” she said. “Jake is so proud. He’s up there, and I hear him: ‘They did this for me?’”
Woollacott explained that Jake had all his credits, and technically graduated in December of 2017. “I’m proud of him for that. He worked hard.” Jake died just two weeks later. “The Vineyard community since Jake’s passing has just been … everytime you turn around, somebody’s doing something. It’s a great place to live, and Jake would have loved it.”
Also in memory of Jake, Project Vine gives out the Jake Sequoia Baird scholarship to a graduating Project Vine senior who “most exemplifies the spirit of Project Vine the way that Jake saw it: a place to learn more from people and relationships, and to value each other, above all else,” the program website says. In its first year, the award was given to two graduates: Levi Vanderhoop and Mataya Trusty.
“We had set up one scholarship, and it came down to those two, and we just couldn’t decide,” Woollacott told The Times after the ceremony. “So we matched it.”
Before Jake moved in with his grandmother, the Vanderhoops were Jake’s neighbors in tribal housing in Aquinnah, so the scholarship meant a lot to Levi and his mother Christy. “It means a lot because it’s in his honor … they grew up together,” she said.
Christy Vanderhoop chimed in during the dedication to say thank you, choking back tears as she did.
“Levi’s a really special kid, not just ’cause he’s my kid,” she said to the crowd outside in front of the memorial space. “When he went to apply for the scholarships for school, he said, ‘Mom, I’m only going to apply for one, ’cause there’s a lot more kids who need the money a lot more than I do.’ So I just want to thank you.”