Austin Fuori got tired of having to clean his family’s pool filter, Megan Thomas was interested in becoming an elementary school teacher and Sean Decker became inspired after visiting the Vietnam War Memorial.
The three, who started with kernels of ideas that they later developed into concrete projects, were among five Newtown High School students who delivered their final conclusions at the Junior/Senior Project Presentations on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
These juniors and seniors were enrolled in an elective class at the high school that teaches students that having an idea is simple, but turning it into something real, whether it be a product or set of findings, is much harder.
From the experience, teachers said they hope students will gain life skills that will help them turn concepts into reality.
“It will serve them well,”said Peg Ragaini, one of two teachers who developed the elective class.
The class is in its 10th year at the high school. About 10 students took the class this year, and Ragaini said teachers would like more to enroll in the future.
Each student is paired with a mentor with expertise in the area who is there to give the teens guidance. In some cases, understanding that they need that mentor was a learning experience in itself.
Sean, a junior who is interested in the military and has his sights set on attending the U.S. Naval Academy after graduation, said he was moved after visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington and seeing all of the names. He decided to pay tribute to the Connecticut troops who have lost their lives in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts by painting a mural of their names at the high school.
Teachers connected him with artist David Merrill, who is well-known in town for in Dodgingtown following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as several murals in the region.
“At first, I thought I wouldn’t need an artist mentor, but I was wrong,” Sean said. “Without Mr. Merrill, the project would have been impossible.”
Sean, who contacted the military to see if officials would contact the families of the killed troop members and ask for permission for the names to be listed on the mural, said he underestimated the amount of work, especially the use of mathematics, to determine how much space each of the names would take and how to space out the names.
Sean and Merrill spent hours working on the mural, with Sean hand-painting each name and Merrill tracing each name with gold paint to make it stand out more. The duo also painted the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action emblem on one side of the mural and the U.S. flag on the other side.
Sean also has organized a reception at the school next month where he will invite the families of the killed troop members to attend. With the two conflicts still raging, Sean left room at the bottom to for more names, saying that if necessary, he intends to return after college to hand-paint additional names on the mural or he will pass on the responsibility to his younger sister who will be attending high school.
Other students chose more scientific subjects, such as Austin, a senior who took on the challenge of find a faster and easier way to clean pool filters, which is among his household chores. Although his final contraption cost a couple hundreds of dollars to make and still needs work, Austin, who had Bob Rogers as his mentor, said he plans to patent the idea. He said if he were to sell it, he would target pool owners.
Megan, a junior who worked as a counselor in training and has plans to be an elementary teacher, did her project on researching what motivates children to do the right thing under the supervision of Jennifer Hoag, the Newtown High School psychologist and Suzanne Perry, a teacher at Sandy Hook School.
Her test case was dubbed Nomad, and through observations and interactions, she looked at the effectiveness of different ways to motivate children to do the right thing.
Other students who presented on Tuesday were Tyler Hough, a junior who worked with Dawn Rudenko from Albert, Dickstein Shapiro LLP on “Writing a Legal Brief” and senior Melissa Destefano who worked with mentor Ellen Fogle on her project, “Broken Up.”
Another round of students were to deliver project presentations on Thursday but the event was postponed due to the snow.