Students who have attended the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School since it first opened its doors ten years ago have a nickname - they are called charter starters. The last two members of the charter starter club - Elliot Morris and Matthew McCurdy - will graduate tomorrow. The graduating class this year numbers five, and among the two girls and three boys, there are few interests in common. Future plans do not overlap and they do not hang out together outside of school.
But they do have chemistry.
They tease without ridiculing, they interrupt each other with praise of their talents, they roll their eyes but voice pride in their classmates' accomplishments. They crack each other up. They finish each other's sentences. Collectively, they are a living example of the charter school philosophy.
Although three of the five do not plan to live on the Island again (the two charter starters do plan to stay) they are all sure to miss what they leave behind after tomorrow's 11:30 a.m. graduation ceremony in the school yard in West Tisbury.
"The best way to put it would be, I feel like they were much more interested in me succeeding and me accomplishing my goals than at the other schools," said Rubin Cronig, who joined his four classmates for a conversation with the Gazette at Tropical restaurant in Vineyard Haven early this week. Mr. Cronig will attend Wheaton College to study business in the fall. "One thing I wanted to do is start a company before I left high school," he added. Giggles and groans erupted from the other students and Mr. Cronig smiles. "I know, I know," he said, familiar with the reaction of his classmates when he talks business.
Using the charter school's project-based curriculum and mentor programs, Mr. Cronig started a high-end watch company and fulfilled school requirements at the same time. He animatedly described development of the watch designs and business plan with help from mentors on the Island and in New York. As he explains the details of finances, business suppliers and production, the pronoun I turns to we and Mr. Cronig sounds like a seasoned entrepreneur. He politely excuses himself to take a call on his cell phone, prompting another burst of good-natured laughter and commentary from his classmates.
If Mr. Cronig has an opposite, it is Mr. Morris with the shy smile, who humbly describes himself and his ambitions.
"I don't really have any plans," he said about this summer and next fall. He has worked at Island Entertainment for four years and likes the job that lets him watch all the movies he wants for free, but he says he may save up money to travel. To where? "I don't know, going somewhere, getting off this rock," he said. "I might find a boat to be a student on in future months - or crew."
Mr. Cronig jumped in to correct Mr. Morris's statement that he has few interests: "Yes you do," he said, describing the 12-foot boat Mr. Morris offered to refinish for an auction.
"He's really good at boat building," Mr. Cronig said. Mr. Morris responded modestly, "I just put the outside stuff on them," he said, referring to stripping, painting and varnishing. His sister is a sailor and his father runs Vineyard Voyagers, a nonprofit organization that gives Island youth the opportunity to build and sail wooden boats. Mr. Morris was also on the cover of Wooden Boat magazine a couple of years ago, when it featured a story on the Island-built ketch Mabel.
The students raved about the geometric colored blocks Mr. Morris made for creating designs and temporary artwork, and the video he made about the Cuban Missile Crisis, using an existing movie, timelines and photoraphs of the real people represented by the actors.
Korilee Connelly is also interested in film.
"I want to write movies," said Ms. Connelly, who will attend San Francisco State University to study journalism and art. Outgoing and smiling, Ms. Connelly's two and a half years at the charter school were marked by dedication to community service. Her mother works for Martha's Vineyard Community Services, but Ms. Connelly said it's less the influence of her mother than her own natural bent.
"I really enjoy it, being able to help people," she said. "Pretty much anything I can volunteer for, I do."
One of Ms. Connelly's portfolio projects was about the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., where she and about a dozen students went with their science teacher to work on the river for a week last June.
The class trip was inspired by a movie students watched about the polluted and neglected river. The neighborhood on the river is so dangerous, its residents are considered an endangered species because of the murder rate. Students decided they wanted to go to Anacostia to help clean the river.
"It felt good to be able to see the movie and then go down there," Ms. Connelly said.
Nikole Brown has also volunteered extensively in the past nine years she has attended the charter school; she is the third in a family of five girls to graduate from the school, but she sets herself apart with her academic interests.
"I always had a passion for Indian history," Ms. Brown said. She combined this passion with her interest in women's rights to create a portfolio project on women's rights in India. She is also loves Greek history and mythology and is a dedicated photographer, supervising the school darkroom. In the fall she will attend Salem State College to study business management.
"Then I hope to go to culinary school," she said. "Maybe I'll own a restaurant someday."
She and Ms. Connelly helped build the teen center and are members of SLIP, the youth council for the YMCA of Martha's Vineyard. They also run the battle of the bands.
"Do you actually go to that?" Mr. McCurdy asked.
"Yeah, it's awesome," Ms. Brown replied.
With most high school graduates talking about the real world and how they might find their place in it down the road, Mr. McCurdy appears to have been there all along. He worked out a schedule with the charter school so he could work full time at his father's car dealership since it opened in Vineyard Haven five years ago. He also has worked at his grandparents' store Wind's Up since he was 12 and is an avid windsurfer and boater.
"I like working with my hands, not my mind," Mr. McCurdy said. He plans to take over his father's business some day, although his interest is not in the front office, but under the hood.
"That's a lot of thinking and figuring out and running around," he explained. "Doing the mechanics, you're just in there, looking for what's wrong."
At the charter school, Mr. McCurdy said teachers recognized his hands-on learning style and worked with it.
"I learned that about myself and I'm proud of that," he said. "You learn this way. I learn that way. We both learn."
Ms. Connelly chimed in: "I'm proud of you too."