Seniors present their projects to family and friends
The Block Island School adopted the senior project as a graduation requirement over 12 years ago. At that time, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) instituted additional requirements beyond the usual 20 credits of this and that, and let schools choose from a variety of “performance-based diploma assessments.” Schools could take their pick of a graduation portfolio, student exhibitions, senior project and/or a capstone project.
Completing a Senior Project and presenting it to the public is one of the rites of passage of being a student in Rhode Island and it’s probably more exciting for the public, friends, and family, than for the students themselves. The idea is to independently research a topic of choice, with the help of, and under the guidance of a mentor, write a lengthy paper, and then do a related project that can and must be presented to the public. This spring the presentation was limited to family, mentors, and a few invited guests.
This year the students of the Block Island School showed a heightened awareness of environmental and social issues, and mental and physical health. Athletics play a large role in the life of a Block Island School student, and was the focus of several projects. Daniel Cullen’s project was to explore the question of whether college athletes should be paid, with a particular look at basketball. He also explored various options student athletes have should they wish to take alternate routes to the NBA, such as the newly formed “G
League.” Cullen’s mentor was physical education teacher and baseball coach John Tarbox.
Jurie Angelos S. Fontanilla focused on the benefits of martial arts in schools with a paper that touched on the mental health benefits of exercise (focus, self-discipline) as well as the expected physical benefits. Martial arts were a large part of life for Jurie when he lived in the Philippines, but after the fifth grade his family moved to New Jersey, where he had to focus on learning English, and had little time for the martial arts. When he moved to Block Island there was nowhere to study, but he continued on his own. For his project, he chose to to focus on teaching younger students at the school some Taekwondo moves, but due to Covid, he had do this by video. John Tarbox, also Jurie’s mentor, and the kids approved, and when asked if they would take a Taekwondo class at the Block Island School, the answer was “yes.”
Holden van Lent’s project was on the benefits of video games, with a focus on virtual reality. But, the project had to have “something you could measure,” according to Holden’s mother, Deanna van Lent. So, the “something you could measure” became the act of docking at the International Space Center. Evidently it’s not the easy-looking, floating, slow-mo act that certain movie scenes make it out to be, but a dizzying, fast task that Holden performs quite well. Mom tried it, once. Holden’s mentor was Jonathan Berry.
Sometimes athletes get hurt and Savannah Brown had a useful guinea pig for her project on athletic rehabilitation when a classmate was injured. At first the injury was thought to be a broken bone, but it turned into another type of injury altogether – a muscular one, and one that required a different course of therapy. Brown’s mentor was Alison Warfel, and together they explored the differences between rehabilitation for non-athletes and athletes, something Brown says is “very different.”
In the area of mental health, Seamus Hemingway, for his paper, researched suicide and mental health awareness among veterans of war and focused his project on “Stop Soldier Suicide.” Hemingway did a lot of personal research, interviewing veterans on Block Island. His mentor was Lyle Carey, who had enlisted in the Marines and just returned to civilian life a few months ago. Hemingway plans on joining the armed services after he graduates, but hasn’t decided between Special Forces and the Air Force.
Now that there’s been an entire generation of school kids living in the age of the cell phone, there’s some research and statistics to be had. Cole McGinnes looked at “Screen Time and Social Media” for his project, asking questions and finding out answers to things like just how much time is spent on social media – the equivalent of one month per year, on average, he says, and how addictive it is. His paper is titled “The Negative Impacts of Social Media,” - not quite what you’d expect from a teenager, and his mentor was Vicky Carson, health teacher at the B.I. School. McGinnes even tried an experiment on himself. He turned off his smart phone for a few days and attempted to live without it from a Thursday evening until Sunday night. During the presentations, school Principal Kristine Monje asked him what happened, and the answer was a mixed bag. On the good side, Cole spent some time cooking – and enjoyed it – and read a book, which he told Monje he had to do, but was behind on. Challenges were listening to music and talking to his mother, because he had to, at times, borrow others’ phones. And, he missed a party.
Tim Connor’s project, “Hate Crimes in the U.S.” is particularly timely, or perhaps a product of the times. He says it’s “the biggest issue we have today.” It’s a tie-in to another interest Connor has, media, and his mentor is Tim Mooney, who is head of marketing at The Nature Conservancy – Rhode Island. Connor has been doing an internship with Mooney where he takes footage of events and puts them together for videos. Connor plans to double-major in film and business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles this fall.
“Spreading Awareness About the Homeless Community” was Stephanie Rich’s project and it took on both a creative and charitable bent. Besides her research project, she designed a t-shirt to spread her message, the sales of which raised $1,300 for Crossroads Rhode Island. When the Joyce Oberkotter Family Foundation, which yearly gives a scholarship to a student of the Block Island School found out about it, they donated another $1,000 as a match. Besides money though, Rich stresses that the homeless are in need of donations of clothing, toys, health and beauty aids, and fresh and canned food. Crossroads is Rhode Island’s leading provider of housing and services for the homeless.
Both Sophie Mott and Lucy Rigby-Leather took on aspects of climate change for their projects. Mott’s paper is titled “The Downfall of Climate Change,” and her project focused on the more sustainable material of bamboo, which, she showed, could be used for a myriad of everyday household projects to materials for construction and fuel.
Rigby-Leather’s paper is “The Evils of Fast Fashion and the Benefits of Slow Fashion.” The terms are new to most people and refer to the way we unthinkingly, and unknowingly consume vast resources in the pursuit of cheap goods, especially those throw-away items like six-dollar t-shirts. Initially, Rigby-Leather’s project was more focused on Kombucha leather, and her mentor was Persephone Brown. Kombucha leather is a product made by infusing Kombucha tea with a sort of starter (like sourdough bread, or yogurt) that then makes the cellulose in the tea form a material. It’s sort of like fruit leather, and Rigby Leather had samples that she made herself, including a belt.
But as she was going along, she latched on to the greater topic of sustainability in fashion and the environmental impacts of fast fashion. When asked if she went down a rabbit hole, she said: “I got sucked right in.”