Music as a way of expressing emotion; art therapy as an alternative to medication; the importance of exercise; the filmmaking process and its relationship to being media-literate; preserving natural history through taxidermy; the debate between using a smartphone or digital camera to capture images; and the issues associated with internet privacy.
These were the subjects of the Block Island School’s senior class projects, which were exhibited to the public at the school on May 2. Senior class members Ailyn Barillas, Evalene Deane, Jake Douglas, Oscar Menendez Hernandez, John Jacobsen, Mark Kraeger, and André Miller demonstrated their innovativeness, individualism, intelligence, and insight with this year’s projects. Nancy Greenaway and Joanne Warfel oversee the senior projects program at the school.
“I’m very proud of the students, and their individualism with their projects,” said Greenaway. “They chose what they were interested in researching, and were able to make it of interest to us.”
Ailyn Barillas said art therapy played a pivotal role during her childhood. Barillas, whose project is entitled “Art Therapy Effectiveness,” said painting made her “feel better” when she was a child navigating challenging family issues. Barillas said that she chose her mentor, local artist David Chatowsky because he has traveled to other countries and used art to help children in need.
Barillas told the story of a little girl, who was instructed by therapists to use art to deal with the loss of her parents. At first she only wanted to paint using black and white, said Barillas; but eventually, as she began to heal, the little girl painted in color. It’s a story that Barillas is personally familiar with, and she believes that, in some cases, art therapy is more effective than medicine.
“Painting made me feel better when I was a child,” she said, noting that war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder have also found it to be therapeutic. “I want to continue studying this subject in my future, so that some day I can use it to help people.”
Barillas will be attending Community College of Rhode Island in the fall, but has not yet declared her major. “I’m hoping my major incorporates art therapy,” she said. “Maybe I can bring what I learn to treat people in my home country.”
Evalene Deane said she wanted to do something that she loved, while also possessing the desire to preserve natural history. That something, and the title of her thesis, is “Taxidermy: the essential element for natural history museums.” Standing beside a stuffed buck’s head, a gadwall (bird), and some bird wings, Deane said, “I want to do something that I love to do. I want to do it for a living. It is a no-brainer.”
“Getting the buck’s head stuffed by a professional got me into taxidermy,” said Deane, who shot the buck as part of the town’s deer cull on the island. Deane comes from a family of hunters, who have a respect for nature and animals. “I really do love animals, so I thought that learning about taxidermy would teach me how to preserve them,” she said.
Deane said she chose Kim Gaffett as her mentor due to Gaffett’s experience with wildlife and the taxidermy process. “A lot of people recommended her to me.” Gaffett is the Naturalist for The Nature Conservancy, which sponsors wildlife programs that focus on the natural history and beauty of Block Island.
Deane, who said she has preserved eight different types of wildlife through the process of taxidermy, will be attending Bill Allen’s Pocono Institute of Taxidermy in White Haven, Pennsylvania. “I’m going to school in August, so this project has given me a head start.”
Jake Douglas used famed novelist, journalist, and social activist Jack London’s post-apocalyptic novella, “The Scarlet Plague,” as the basis for his senior project, which focused on filmmaking and media literacy. Douglas produced, wrote and directed a 10 minute short film based on London’s story. While the original was set in California, Douglas reimagined the story for Block Island. “I would love to become a journalist, and a filmmaker,” said Douglas, whose project is entitled, “The Filmmaking Process,” with an emphasis on “being media literate.”
“Don’t always believe what you’re seeing,” said Douglas, explaining what being media literate meant during his presentation at the school. “The definition is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media.” Douglas noted that understanding how to use a camera to tell a story provides insight into how media can be manipulated to sell a product. “Understanding how to use the camera is important.”
Douglas, whose project details the filmmaking process from preproduction to postproduction, said he chose his mentor, Lars Trodson, who is editor of The Block Island Times, because “he’s a journalist, and an editor, with a minor background in filmmaking. Working with him was entertaining, and educational, and I enjoyed spending time at the newspaper’s office.”
Douglas is hoping to attend Columbia College of Chicago in the fall to study journalism and filmmaking, but needs to raise part of the tuition to enroll. His GoFundMe page can be found at: www.gofundme.com/sendjaketochicago.
Oscar Menendez Hernandez made a pronouncement while presenting his senior project, entitled “The Importance of Exercise.” Hernandez said, “People need to exercise. It’s that simple,” noting that exercise is good for people mentally as well as physically.
Hernandez took a survey of teachers and students at the school to confirm that conclusion for his thesis, which was crafted with the assistance of his mentor, John Tarbox. “From the survey I found that exercise is beneficial, not just for physical fitness, but emotionally as well.” Henandez said that he chose Tarbox as his mentor because he is the Physical Education teacher at the school, and knows a lot about sports and exercise.
“I like sports,” said Hernandez. “Soccer is my favorite,” and the sport he hopes to pursue in college. Hernandez said he won’t be pursuing his thesis as a career, but is hoping to attend the Community College of Rhode Island to major in political science.
John Jacobsen said the genesis of his senior thesis was Facebook’s data breach, where the personal information of 87 million people was gathered and sold without their knowledge. “On the internet you have nearly no privacy,” said Jacobsen, whose project is entitled, “Internet privacy in the news: what you should know.”
“People should be aware that their privacy is being violated,” said Jacobsen. “But it’s not the end of the world.” He noted that only so much data can be collected, and protections are being implemented by various entities, including the European Union. To protect personal data privacy, the EU has created what is called General Data Protection Regulations, which updates a law the union passed in 1995.
Jacobsen said he chose his thesis on a whim. “I had a bunch of ideas, but decided to pursue this one,” he said, with the assistance of mentor, Mark Oliveira, who is an Information Technology professional serving the Town of North Kingstown and the Block Island School. Oliveira was “suggested by Ms. Warfel,” said Jacobsen.
Jacobsen said he has no plans of pursuing his senior thesis as a career, but hopes to study chemical engineering at the University of Rhode Island, which he will be attending in the fall.
Mark Kraeger said he enjoys taking photographs of people and nature. So naturally his senior thesis project would be entitled “Photography,” and involve the comparison in quality between a digital camera and a smartphone. “I really love photos,” he said, noting that digital cameras produce greater resolution quality than smartphones. His conclusion: “Professionals are more likely to use a digital camera.”
“I’ve been taking photos with my digital camera for about three years,” said Kraeger. “It’s something I’ve enjoyed and wanted to look more into.” He displayed his photographs on a table while presenting his project; they were taken by both a smartphone and digital camera, demonstrating the digital camera’s superiority. His favorite photo is of an eagle at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence.
Kraeger said he chose his mentor, Lisa Sprague, on the recommendation of Ms. Warfel and Ms. Greenaway. “She is easy to work with,” he said. “She has some experience as a photographer.”
Kraeger is not sure where his photography endeavors will take him. He will be pursuing a career in education at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain in the fall.
André Miller said music and English are two of his favorite subjects in school. That’s why Miller decided to pursue his senior thesis project entitled, “Music: The Universal Language of Emotion.” Miller said, “Music is a universal language that can efficiently express emotion. We all speak the language of music. It’s sort of like everyone’s second language. Who do you know that doesn’t like music? No one.”
“It’s a way of expression — music,” said Miller. “That’s the crux of my project.” Miller noted that, “Music is more than one emotion. It’s your essence.” He listed six basic human emotions that can be seen on someone’s face: happiness, contempt, surprise, anger, fear, and sadness. His research determined that people exhibit a combination of these emotions when listening to music.
Miller noted that his English teacher, Ms. Warfel, and music teacher, Megan Hennessy, who is also his mentor, have been influential in his school studies. “I wanted to do something with language for my senior thesis project, and I got bored,” he said. “So, I thought: what else do I love? The answer was music.”
Miller will be attending Boston College in the fall, where he hopes to major in communications and minor in Spanish.