Island Charter School Prepares To Honor First Graduating Class

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School is holding its first ever graduation in June. The school, in its fifth year, has a lot to celebrate.

Paul Karasik, one of the school's eight founders, said, "This is the first year the school has a kindergarten class and a graduating class; there is the feeling in this fifth year that the place is starting to bloom. It's still a work in progress, but it's coming into focus." The state has already recertified the school for another five years, and the school hopes to expand its services with a program for the arts.

Eight founders began planning for the school about seven years ago, and since its establishment five years ago, the school has almost always had a full capacity enrollment of 150 students.

The school is graduating four students: Elana Robinson-Lynch, Indaia Whitecombe, Sarah Maxner and Walker Blackwell. While having to meet the state's curriculum requirements, the students also took on rigorous educational challenges. In the last two years at the school, a student must create five portfolios. A portfolio is a project completed under the supervision of a faculty member that encourages a student to learn in great depth something that appeals to his or her personality.

Miss Robinson-Lynch completed such portfolios as poetry and reading and learning about learning through trigonometry. Last year, she visited France with a group of 12 students and developed a portfolio written entirely in French.

Miss Robinson-Lynch, who attended the school for five years, said, "The journey had its ups and downs, but I feel satisfied with the education and it was the best choice to come here."

Asked if she felt she missed anything by not attending the regional high school, Miss Whitecombe said, "We did not miss anything. We really found our passions here. A smaller school usually makes the difference. I know what I am and I know what I want to do in the future. For all of us, we have covered so much ground that takes kids in the high school so much more time to discover. We were allowed to explore our own interests and explore and find our own mind."

Lori Shaller, who teaches the older students at the school, said the educational environment develops lifelong learners. In the spirit of the school, the four students do not view graduation as an ending. "Graduation will be a celebration of becoming who I am and to keep going with that. It's not the end but the beginning," said Miss Robinson-Lynch.

Mr. Walker, who for one of his portfolios, built a darkroom at the school, plans to pursue his photography in Vermont. Miss Maxner hopes to secure a sailing position with a crew. The other two students are taking the college route. Miss Robinson-Lynch will attend Hampshire College, which awarded her $7,000 for the excellence of her application, and plans to pursue writing. Miss Whitcombe will attend Bennington College and has a dream to live and travel around Africa documenting disappearing native tribes.

Mr. Karasik said, "I am very proud and pleased that we have lasted this long. We are really thriving in the community. The graduating class is a group of highly motivated kids, and they just completed a very rigorous senior year - no one has been resting."

Robert Moore, director of the school, said: "This first group of graduates sets a positive path for those coming behind. They give hope and faith to the other students. This is a tremendous accomplishment for teachers and community members who have come here to work. This is a feather in the cap of the founders who had this dream seven years ago."

In 1991, the nation's first charter school law was passed in Minnesota, and the education reform is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Massachusetts passed its first charter school law in 1993, and there are now more than 35 in the state. Nationwide in 1993 there were 42 charter schools. Now there are 2,060. Chris Braunlich, vice-president for policy communications of the Center for Education Reform, said, "Traditional public education establishments tend to be one-size-fits-all institutions. The genius behind the charter schools is that they address the individual learning needs of kids."

The four students spent a year working on plans for the school's first-ever graduation ceremonies on June 2 at 3 p.m. The whole community is invited to attend the event.

Mr. Moore said, "We are all proud of the four students. What they have brought to the community and what they will continue to bring to the larger community is an inspiration to all of us at the charter school."