On Tuesday, May 2, the eight seniors at the Block Island School presented their senior projects to their younger peers, teachers, and the general public. It’s almost, but not quite, the last hurdle they will go through before graduation in June.
The senior project is a graduation requirement that was instituted by the Rhode Island Department of Education some 15 years ago. It requires students to pick a topic of their choice, and then working both independently and with a mentor, do research, write a 10-page (or so) paper, create a physical display, and then present it all first to the public, and then more formally to a panel of educators. Some of the students have also combined their projects with an internship. At the Block Island School, High School English teacher Maureen Flaherty is the senior projects coordinator.
For the public, it’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with the students as they explain their projects, what they found, and what surprised them.
Campbell Coviello chose to tie her senior project in with her internship at the Block Island Medical Center where she has been working in physical therapy with mentor Alison Warfel and practitioner Tom Hobin.
Coviello’s paper, titled “Benefits of Autograft ACL Repairs in Contrast to Allograft Repairs,” begins with the sentence: “The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is the most frequently injured ligament in the knee.” It’s an exploration of the benefits of one grafting process over the other, with “autograft” meaning the tissue to be used in the graft comes from the patient’s own body, versus having come from a cadaver. It’s a subject that’s personal for her, as she suffered an injury to her ACL some six years ago.
For her display, Coviello chose the related subject of re-entry into sports after suffering an ACL injury. (Hint: take it slow.) It is complete with a working model of the knee that Coviello uses to show people exactly which part of the knee is which.
In the fall, Coviello plans on attending the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and majoring in applied exercise science.
Kristel Cruz’s project is a way of giving back, or paying it forward. When Cruz came to Block Island from Guatemala at the age of 13, she spoke no English. Thanks to a bilingual friend in school, she gradually learned. Now she’s tutoring another student, who also came to Block Island speaking no English. Sometimes the students come here not fully knowing how to read and write in their first languages either, and Cruz believes becoming proficient in the first language is key to learning a second one. She would also like to see Spanish taught in the Block Island School at the elementary level, and to develop a Seal of Biliteracy program.
Cruz plans on attending the Community College of Rhode Island in the fall, and majoring in cybersecurity.
Sam Stockman has also combined an internship with a senior project. His mentor is Dave Sniffen, director of the town Recreation Department, and the title of his paper is: “The Importance and Benefits of Youth Sports.” The thesis, Stockman says is “How to coach youth athletes and how they can benefit from that.” He’s gotten a lot of experience, coaching kids from kindergarten through grade five in soccer, basketball, and baseball/tee ball.
During the presentation, some of the younger students crowding around his display were mostly interested in seeing pictures of themselves, but Stockman made sure to give them a little lesson on the brain’s gray matter, pointing to a graphic showing its growth throughout childhood. Sports, after all, have benefits on mental health. About his project, Stockman says “The most interesting thing is, I learned more about the brain.”
Coaching also taught him to be “way more patient,” says Stockman, and he noted that even though coaching is about discipline, the wrong kind of discipline can have unintended consequences, even turning kids off.
Stockman plans on attending Southern Maine Community College where he believes he will be majoring in sports marketing and management, but we think he might switch to neuroscience.
“The main mindset you should focus on while playing is determination,” writes Auggie Lambert in his paper called: “Why Hitting a Baseball is the Hardest Thing to do in Professional Sports.” Reading it, you can tell that Lambert eats, drinks and sleeps baseball, besides playing and training for it. (He also has played Amateur Athletic Union baseball.)
But most importantly, and appropriately for a senior project, he analyzes it. Whether it’s the pitch or the hit, Lambert’s paper meticulously picks apart every motion involved. Especially when the ball’s speed is over 90 miles per hour. For instance, Lambert uses the following quote from Rymer Zachary of the Bleacher Report: “A 90-mph fastball goes from the release point to across the plate in less than 0.44 seconds. The ball travels 12 feet before the hitter is able to pick the ball up visually. The ball then travels another 10 feet before the hitter can calculate the trajectory of the ball. For the last 10 feet the ball travels to the catcher’s mitt, the ball is practically invisible.”
Lambert’s display, of course, is focused on the mechanics of hitting and he’s all too happy to demonstrate to the young audience of elementary school students crowding around his table.
Fisher Johnston focused his senior project on sustainable tourism – a natural subject for a Block Island teen, especially one that has been doing an internship with the Block Island Tourism Council. In his paper, titled “Tourism and its Challenges,” he details the pros and cons that come from the industry, mainly focusing and promoting the pros, while warning of the cons. In his opening paragraph he writes: “In the place we know and love, Block Island, we have 1,000 yearly residents and up to 40,000 tourists daily in the summer. We are heavily dependent on tourism, and we would not be able to enjoy this paradise without it...Tourism is not always a bad thing, and it can help create job opportunities for locals and seasonal residents, promote conservation, and encourage endangered species protection.”
In his paper, Johnston uses examples from all over the world of how sustainable tourism, especially eco-tourism, can be beneficial for the land and animals, including humans. It is especially beneficial for youth, women, and the underprivileged who might otherwise have limited job opportunities.
In the fall, Johnston plans on attending Plymouth State and he is “leaning toward” cyber security as a major.
Last fall, Cally Weber decided the school needed a newspaper, so she decided to make that the center of her senior project. She started out with a planning meeting with The Block Island Times and her mentor, Chris Crawford, learning about some of many details that go into producing a publication. It didn’t take her long before she produced her first edition of Hurricane Happenings.
For her research paper, Weber chose to study the newspaper industry, titling her paper “The Future of News Publishing,” which explored the differences between digital, online papers and traditional paper print. She found that while the future is largely digital, there is still value in paper, and so there is still room in the world for both.
Weber plans to attend the University of Rhode Island after graduation and major in journalism.
There was some serious camera equipment in Angel Rodriguez’s display, and some pretty stellar photographs too. For this senior, photography “started randomly one summer.” Now his mentor is photographer Steve Miller, and the subject of his paper is “Benefits of Therapeutic Photography and Art Therapy.”
Never heard of it? Most are somewhat familiar with the more traditional art therapy, but photographic therapy goes a bit further in that often it both gets you out of doors, in motion, but also involved in the moment. Rodriguez writes: “One of the main benefits of therapeutic photography specifically is its ability to help in processing trauma. Each picture taken requires attention to who or what is going into the frame. The process of capturing a picture improves emotional control, a trait frequently mentioned in psychotherapy.”
For him personally, Rodriguez says he likes going out with a camera before school. “It calms my mind,” he says, especially if he has a test later that day. “Going out to take pictures can boost anyone’s moods with the contribution of the sun, fresh air, and even just moving around seeing different things. It is in some ways a form of meditation, and helps to create a sense of inner calm. Anytime you take a walk on a new trail or place it sparks your mind and creativity, and you are bound to capture something ordinary and turn it into extraordinary.”
Spark plugs, they’re not just for cars anymore, but part of a natural gas home heating system. Carter Brown has focused his paper inspired by his internship this school year with Oceanside Plumbing, with a lot of additional research on the subject of the best and most efficient ways to heat your home. His conclusion? Natural gas boilers beat oil boilers. For his display, he had one all taken apart for demonstration purposes.
Brown considers environmental impacts, maintenance needs, safety, and cost in his evaluation, although he does note that “oil prices change a lot.” And when he concludes that gas boilers are the better option, he does recognize that “This may not be the best option forever with technology advancing every day.”