2015-05-29 / Front Page

Senior Projects launched

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Mike Bennett, left, a science teacher at Kennebunk High School who helped launch RSU 21's new senior project program, stands outside the school with inaugural participants from the Class of 2015, including, from left, Jansen Manahan, Mark Lightbody, Meaghan Dube, and Andrea Dest, along with Principal Susan Cressey, and Emily Ferrik. The seniors are among 58 of the 176 graduating seniors who are logging 50-hours interning with area businesses and nonprofits this week. (Duke Harrington photo) Mike Bennett, left, a science teacher at Kennebunk High School who helped launch RSU 21's new senior project program, stands outside the school with inaugural participants from the Class of 2015, including, from left, Jansen Manahan, Mark Lightbody, Meaghan Dube, and Andrea Dest, along with Principal Susan Cressey, and Emily Ferrik. The seniors are among 58 of the 176 graduating seniors who are logging 50-hours interning with area businesses and nonprofits this week. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — All this week, classes at Kennebunk High School are showing a significant shortage of senior class members.

But the missing students are not slacking off as part of an end-of-public school prank. Far from it. Instead, 58 of the 176 graduates in the KHS Class of 2015 are actually logging extra time, putting in 50 hours each in RSU 21’s inaugural “Senior Projects” program.

The project was the brainchild of KHS Principal Susan Kressey, who wanted to increase the synergy between the school and the greater community at large. KHS students have long been required to perform a set number of community service hours in order to graduate, and many perform internships under the auspices of the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport Arundel Chamber of Commerce, but Kressey saw a need to fill the time between final exams and graduation with something meaningful and memorable for students.

Kressey first mentioned her idea at a staff meeting early in the school year. As luck would have it, science department head Mike Bennett was at that time looking for a project to complete his master’s degree in educational leadership.

“I sort of wrestled this away from her,” he admitted, with a laugh, during a break from classes on Friday.

Even more fortuitous, Kennebunkport resident James McMann approached the school at the same time with a similar idea and a request to volunteer.

“I was in the military for eight and a half years, so I feel it’s important to give back to the community and I wanted to find a way to give back,” McMann said on Tuesday.

“It was really kind of a divine intervention in that when I went to the school Mike and I just hit it right off, and we both had the same idea,” Mc- Mann said.

The idea was to match students up with local businesses closely aligned to what they plan to study in college. Bennett worked inside the school to make all the necessary arrangements and to get the students on board and signed up, while McMann spent two months canvassing the area on breaks and after work from his job at a Portland IT company. The response from the business community, he says, was nothing short of phenomenal.

“It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “Most people who own these businesses think this is a great idea. A lot have been, like, I wish the schools did this all the time.”

Most of the students ended up having to interview for their “jobs,” where they will be treated like new trainees. For many of the participating seniors, it’s a chance to test drive a chosen profession.

Meaghan Dube for example, will work at a Spurwink school for youngsters with autism.

“I plan to go into deaf education, and since they use sign language in there, it will give me a chance to see how it’s actually used in the classroom,” she said.

“Without this project, I don’t think I’d have an opportunity like this. I mean, I doubt I’d have been able to go out and find it on my own,” said Dube.

Currently, Dube works an apprenticeship at an elementary school in Saco, but the senior project will give her a chance to put in several full days with young students.

The same is true for Emily Ferrick, who now volunteers in a class at Kennebunk Elementary School. She plans to be a teacher, she says, but wanted to immerse herself in the job.

“Normally, I’m only in there for a few hours,” said Ferrick. “This is a chance really to see the job in even more of a real-world setting, in more of the way we’d do them after college.”

Meanwhile, Jansen Manahan, who plans to study economics at Northeastern University, will be working with Kennebunk Financial Director Joel Downs, in addition to other town departments.

“I see that as an education we don’t normally get in the classroom,” he said. “We get a free education and I believe it’s worth the extra time to get as much education as we can in the things we believe in and want to do.”

Andrea Dest, who plans to study food research, will be working at the Wells Reserve. She will help study bird populations, among other things, but the real draw is the reserve’s lab.

“I’ll be working with lab equipment, which is something I want to do,” said Dest. “During these last few weeks of school, I’d rather spend my time doing something I enjoy than wasting the teachers’ time. I hope to see from this if research is what I actually want to go into. I mean, I’m pretty sure, but this will allow me to use lab equipment I’d actually use in a real job.”

“Normally, this time of year, we’d just be watching movies or whatever, so this is a great way to do something that’s really meaningful for us,” said Marc Lightbody, an aspiring engineer who will intern at Corning.

After the internships are over, the 58 seniors will participate in a round table forum to share their experience.

“We’re always looking to improve things,” Bennett said. “Whenever you do something new, there’s always going to be ideas of what could have been done better. So, that’s what we’ll be trying to get back from the kids, information on what worked and what didn’t and what can we do to make it an even more meaningful experience.”

Still, at least at the onset, the students seem to have the exact idea behind the projects.

“The teachers are doing a wonderful job, but if there’s a way we can encourage these kids and help them understand what it means to be out in the real world, that you’re going to work hard and not everyone is going to get an award, I think that’s a winwin for everyone,” McMann explained.

According to Kressey, this is a pilot year for the senior projects. Although purely voluntary at this point, they could become a requirement in future years. Required or not, she said the projects already seem to be serving their intended purpose, matching students with area businesses, and maybe even planting the seeds that will bring graduates back to the area after college, stemming the so-called “brain drain” in Maine.

“What I think is important is for the community to see what amazing, wonderful youngsters we have here,” she said. “This is a chance for the community to see just how well prepared our students are.”

Senior Projects

Businesses participating in Kennebunk High Schools inaugural round of senior projects include the following:

Bixby International Business Management, Cetera Financial Group, Corning Engineering, Dietz Associates, Downeast Flowers, Dream Acres Equestrian Center, Frinklepod Farm, The Homestead at Rest-and-Be- Thankful Farm, Invest-Comm Commercial Real Estate, Kate Nelligan Design, Kennebunk Elementary School, Kennebunk Fire Department, Kennebunk Free Library, Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce, Kennebunk Public Works, Kennebunk Savings Bank, Kennebunk Town Hall, Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, Kennebunkport Police Department, Landing Boat School, Lasik Surgeons, Little Footsteps Child Care Center, Luggage Loft, Maine Youth Leadership, Middle School of the Kennebunks, Mildred L. Day Elementary School, Nadeau Orthodontics, Nonantum Resort, O’Reilly Lobster Company, Port Lobster Company, Ross Corner Animal Wellness Center, RSU 21 Board of Directors, Sea Road School, Sebago Technics, Specially Designed Horse Stables, Spurwink Services, Sun Edison Engineering, UNE Neuroscience Research Lab, Wells Reserve, Wiscasset Family Medicine.

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