Monday, June 20th, 2011
Over 150 people filled High Mountain Hall on May 20 as Wayfinder Schools’s Residential Class of 2011 celebrated graduation and were awarded their high school diplomas. After a rainy but festive procession through downtown Camden, students were acknowledged with a standing ovation as they entered the hall in brightly colored caps and gowns.
Residential Program Director Joseph Hufnagel opened the ceremony by acknowledging the students and thanking the staff and community for their commitment to the school. “Community is at the core of our school,” he said, before leading a celebration of all the “unsung heroes” in the room. Hufnagel called out various groups- staff, board members, tutors, friends, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, alumni, native Mainers, distant travelers, school founders, student employers, volunteers and other school supporters, until most everyone in attendance had stood and been recognized with applause.
He thanked school founders Dora Lievow and Emanuel Pariser for “getting us started,” he thanked staff for “creating a powerful learning environment,” and he thanked parents for “trusting us with your children.” He then took attendees on a jaunt down memory lane, reading a lengthy list of student activities and accomplishments throughout the year, barely pausing for breath as he touched upon everything from student work placements, academics and volunteer work to a hike up the face of Maiden Cliff, handing out meals through a Meals on Wheels program in New York City and even the building of “Ursula the giant snowwoman” on the C-School’s front lawn. “Thank you for supporting us and our small school and this remarkable team of young people,” he said.
Attendees then watched a short video slideshow of each of the students throughout the year, as some of their favorite songs played in the background. Lead Teacher Carrie Braman then stood to announce that staff members had joined together to write a poem about each of the students, and said, “You have become the exquisite people you had hoped to become.”
After each student had heard their poem and been awarded their diplomas, they took the microphone themselves to thank staff members, friends and families and fellow students. Tasia Whitaker thanked the staff for helping her find herself and said, “Nine months ago, I didn’t know who I was.” Ayla Shade Johnson also thanked staff members, the community and her fellow students, turning to face each group as she did so. She said the teachers and the community had inspired her, and that she is stronger, more confident and ready for the future. Caleb Terry thanked each staff member individually, with a short story, and even called Residential House Director Emily Sapienza to the floor to share one last silly dance routine with the student body. “We might be seen as drop-outs and stuff,” he said, “but we’re here, getting our diplomas.”
Hufnagel then invited attendees to speak, and one by one family members, volunteers and other school supporters stood to talk about the school, and about the graduates. Joseph Socobasin, Passamaquoddy Tribe Chief and father of a 2009 graduate, thanked the staff and said, “The work they do is just unbelievable. I think you should invite Governor LePage here to see what you do; how you build each kid up and build their confidence. If all schools were like this, we’d have a much higher graduation rate.”
Roger Dell, Director of Education at The Farnsworth Museum, and a member of The Harvard School of Education faculty spoke about his experience working with the students on art and creative projects. “These are the most amazing kids, “he said. “This is an extraordinary small school, a hallmark of the way we should be educating kids. These kids are going to do great things. I hope and expect to see them at Harvard one day.”
Next up: Passages Graduation on June 18!
Thursday, June 16th, 2011
In April, the Students at Wayfinder Schools recorded, ‘abc stories’. Based on their learning of American Sign Language at the school, each letter in the ASL alphabet is acted out in order to convey the narrative of a story. These stories are truly creative and play an important part in deaf culture.
Here is Ayla Johnson’s abc story, ‘Finger Painting’: