Charter School's Biggest Graduating Class Takes Center Stage

Date Published: 
June 2, 2017
Author: 
Chloe Reichel

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School class of 2017 will set a record this Sunday when it graduates. This year’s class is the largest yet, with 14 students.

Discussing preparations for the event, director Robert Moore joked that the school might need to find a bigger stage.

Ceremonies for the 17th graduating class take place Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the charter school campus in West Tisbury.

And while the class is big by charter school standards, by most other measures this class is a small, tight-knit group.

In fact, before the start of high school, one student who had attended since first grade wondered whether the school might be too small. Avery Minor decided to give the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School a try.

“I wanted to kind of see what else was out there,” he said. Two years later, he decided to return to the charter school. “That’s where I felt at home,” he said. Still, he worried that it might be hard to come back. But “as the charter school does, it proved me wrong, and everyone was so welcoming and happy to see me back,” he said.

The story highlights a key attribute of the class of 2017, as described by Mr. Moore. “I find them as a group very caring — a group of what the charter school is and stands for,” he said. He singled out the class members for their leadership, calling them “so helpful and supportive of our younger students in the building. That strikes me as being a wonderful characteristic, because we need in this building — we have kindergarten through twelfth grade students — we need the older students to be really good role models for our younger students, and they have been.”

Mr. Moore also said the class has been environmentally conscious, both through study and various schoolwide initiatives.

“They’ve really been forerunners in establishing sustainability and environment as major areas of research and study in our school,” he said.

Initiatives have included reducing school food waste by collecting scraps for pigs, holding annual beach cleanups, conceptualizing and hosting an Ag-tivist Potluck last spring. The class also worked to shift the focus of the science curriculum toward environmental studies.

Lucy Thompson, a self-described “lifer” who has attended the charter school since kindergarten, studied farming practices on the Island in her environmental science class, collecting and analyzing data on variables like fertilizer, antibiotics, hormone, water and pesticide usage.

She will attend Warren Wilson College in North Carolina next fall, where she is thinking about studying sustainable agriculture and outdoor leadership.

Other seniors reflected on how coursework driven by student interest, along with the mentorship and yearlong portfolio projects, allowed them to discover and pursue their passions.

Students in this year’s graduating class have studied everything from creative writing to segregation in public schools to business. The mentorship program pairs students with Island experts in fields that they hope to explore.

Isabella Morais, who will attend Wesleyan University next year and is one of six MVYouth scholarship recipients, said the project-oriented curriculum helped her to discover her calling — immigration law. She is passionate about social justice and was mentored this year by Rebecca McCarthy, an immigration attorney on the Island. To prepare for her career, she hopes to double major in college, studying Spanish and either sociology or American studies.

Avery Minor, who will study Industrial Design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design next year, agreed about the importance of the mentorship and portfolio projects.

“Discovering my independence in the charter school through mentorship programs and through the idea that I could do project periods on things that I liked — kind of the core of the charter school — was exactly what I needed at that time, just space and help finding myself,” he said.

One graduating senior was so drawn to the unique environment that he commuted to the school from his home in Falmouth every day for his four years of high school. On weekdays, Clancy Conlin would wake up at 6 a.m., caffeinate, have breakfast and then catch the 7 a.m. ferry. After school, he’d take the 3:45 or 4 p.m. boat home.

Though Clancy is looking forward to a shorter commute in college — he’ll live at school, in Amherst, when he attends Hampshire College next year — he’ll miss the community at the charter school and all the opportunities the place offered. He has traveled as far as Spain and Alaska with the school, but he said the most memorable trip was to Costa Rica this past December.

There he and a few other students went on a zip lining excursion. High above the mountains, he was shaking and petrified. He reconsidered his decision, but it was too late. He was strapped in and in a matter of moments he was off.

“I cleared into the mist and I saw just the most amazing midday, afternoon sun up in the clouds, and it was raining a little bit over the mountains, and that was a moment when I realized, wow this school has shown me that I can do so many really cool things, even though some of them are completely terrifying.”

Now the class of 2017 prepares to embark on a different sort of adventure. Isabella Morais feels well prepared to leave, but knows Sunday will be an emotional day.

“Graduation is going to be very tearful.” With a pause and a laugh, she added: “And long.”

The members of class of 2017 are: Avery Miner, Belle Joie Dupon, Carlos Vincente Dos Santos Mullen, Chloe Loftfield, Clancy Conlin, Daniel Ketterer, Galen Harper, Grace Camryn Meyers, Isabella Rita Morais, Jared Rivard, Lucy Thompson, Mateo Garcia, Ryan Catherine Scherer and Yolani Doddy.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School graduation ceremonies begin at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.