The hallways of Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School were a colorful ruckus on Thursday as young students, parents, and faculty hopped from classroom to classroom to learn about each student’s project period subject.
Project period is a two-week stretch at the end of the school year when students can choose from a menu of classes whatever piques their interests.The teachers put together a selection of six classes based off a survey given to students. What makes the charter school’s end-of-the-year project time unique is that students are paired by interest, not by age.
“A fifth grader working with an 11th grader — unheard of!” said school director Pete Steedman. “The older kids can act as leaders and the young kids can step up.”
The projects are more about giving students time to pursue a passion than busy work.
“As a student, I was forced to do things that I did not want to do!” Steedman said. “If they’re interested, they’re going to take academic risks; they’re going to care about it deeply.”
And they do. The students worked in project courses ranging from building medieval siege weapons, to learning how to balance a checkbook. An independent study choice also allowed students to explore anything in between.
Meanwhile, the school bid “buon viaggio” to the eighth grade class as they spent 10 days in Italy traveling from Florence to Cinque Terre and learning about Michaelangelo, Roman history, and cuisine.
“It was amazing,” said Maisie Sherman. “I think I’m going to have a hard time eating the school pizza.”
Una McEntee, mother of 10th grader Jack Donnelly, sang her praises of the school, as her son tirelessly repaired a six-foot catapult in torrential downpour. “This school is amazing in what they’re exposed to — the breadth of culture — I just think it’s the best,” she said.
Max Denkert chose to do an independent study and explore using cosmetics as an art form. Denkert sat down with “close to 1000” makeup products and “let my mind run.”
This is seemingly the essence of the Charter School — letting minds run free.
Jack Holmes, 15, also chose to do an independent study working at the Sassafras Earth Education Center, which is run by Wampanoag tribe members. He kept a fire alive through pummeling rain, a testament to the skills that he acquired.
Perhaps the most impressive course project was run by teachers Troye Evers and Deborah Cutrer. “Kids don’t know money; they don’t understand it.” Evers said. Their course, titled “The Game of Life,” taught students financial responsibility by approximating real-life money troubles.
Each kid was given ‘$1,000’ to start, but they quickly realized that there were strings attached.
“We created a stock market, they had jobs, they had daily fees and had to pay five dollars for school lunch and two dollars for a snack.” Evers explained. “A majority learned how to pack their lunch and snack — they did not want to pay for that,” he said with a chuckle.
The students in the Game of Life seemed to have learned a lot about the ups and downs of real life over the last 10 days. Some, like Madison Bennett-Rock even learned how to get a competitive edge, “I worked at the food pantry and earned double pay because I went on a weekend.” She said glowing with pride. “I only got second place, though.”