On a rain-drenched Wednesday afternoon, the 2015 graduating class of Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School gathered around a table at the Polly Hill Arboretum for their senior lunch.
“I have a memory of a couple of these lunches being on a day with weather like this,” said Buck Reidy, president of the board of trustees. “Graduation’s always beautiful though.”
On Sunday, the nine seniors will graduate and go on to college, gap years and journeys across the world. Graduation ceremonies begin at 1:30 p.m. at the school campus in the North Tisbury section of West Tisbury.
All of the graduates will take away what they’ve learned from going to the unique small school and the opportunities it has provided them.
Dylan Cole, who will attend Cape Cod Community College to study exercise science, came to the school at the beginning of ninth grade after being home schooled. Going to the charter school allowed him the possibility of mentorships and new experiences that he will always be thankful for.
“Suddenly it’s like having this whole world of things I can do,” he said. “If I want to study gymnastics and dance and martial arts and filmmaking, I can do that here.”
Many students from the charter school had similar experiences experimenting with different professions and discovering what they wanted to do. The school’s mentorship program allows students to find someone in the community to work under and learn from once a week, and has resulted in memorable experiences for many of the students.
Brigida Larsen, who began attending the charter school halfway through her junior year, was able to spend several days a week working at a maternity ward, despite being told when she first arrived at the charter school that there wasn’t a program for that.
“It was probably one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I definitely know that that’s what I want to do now. I wouldn’t have known that for sure unless I had been able to do that here.”
Ultimately Brigida was able to incorporate her experiences at the hospital into her senior portfolio, a final project students complete their senior year on a topic of their choice. She now plans to study nursing at Anna Maria College next fall.
Not all the students are headed off to college. Anna Hill, who had been to nine different schools before coming to the charter school, said the school helped to show her that she didn’t want to go to college at all. She applied to only one college, and after being accepted, changed course. “There were other options I wanted to pursue,” she said. Anna is taking a gap year and traveling to Thailand this winter.
The class also had the opportunity to travel to cities like New York, Washington and even Los Angeles through anonymous donor gifts, though the Los Angeles trip, “was very exclusive. Not many went on that one,” noted Skyler Cole, Dylan Cole’s twin brother, who will attend Sterling College next year to study sustainable agriculture and forest management.
One student, Bella Maidoff, has been at the school since kindergarten, only one of a handful of students to do so in the school’s history.
“I just feel like I had a lot of unique experiences,” she said. “I was able to travel a lot, to go on canoeing trips and camping trips, to go to Spain and Italy. You can’t do that anywhere else.”
Ms. Maidoff will study environmental science at the University of Vermont next fall. This past year, she was able to study hydroponic farming at Thimble Farm, an experience she credits the charter school with allowing her to have which in turn helped lead her to her chosen field of study.
“Within a small community there are just so many people with interests and connections that care about getting you where you want to be,” she said. “I was able to do four really cool mentorships that helped to show me where I was going in my life.”
The small community of the charter school in turn lends itself to students who benefit from extra attention to allow them to fully pursue their goals. Julia Alves, who is headed to New England College to become a social worker, experienced this after she came to the school halfway through her junior year.
“I think it was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “At the charter school they really pay attention to you, and they really care for you. You can tell.”
Throughout all their years at the school, the graduates have always been able to pursue their unique individual interests.
“If you have something that you want to do, the school will work to make it happen for you,” said Buck Reidy. “You just can’t do that at another school. That’s what makes the charter school so powerful.”
Franklin Pilcher, who will work on the Island for a year before going to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, agreed. “The community is so powerful here,” he said “That’s the impression the charter school has made on me. Community is really important. That’s what I learned here.”