Liberty Bell students encouraged to pursue personal passions
Rebuilding a truck engine. Writing a book of poetry. Taking over a restaurant and cooking for diners. Researching racial bias. Composing music, learning to play the piano, and teaching guitar.
More than 50 graduating students at Liberty Bell High School and the Independent Learning Center tackled an inspired range of senior projects this year. Students described their projects, the passions behind them — plus a little bit about themselves — to families, community members and school staff at Senior Presentation Night on May 22.
Book projects were particularly popular this year, said Liberty Bell health and family life teacher Rebecca Thomson, who, along with business/math teacher Kyle Acord, served as project advisers. Among the original books — which the seniors published themselves — are “The ABCs of the Methow Valley,” an alphabet book for children by Icel Sukovaty; “A Girl’s Mind,” a novella about a girl dealing with depression by Neela Mitchell; “Made of Clay,” a book of poetry by Lucia Clay; an anthology of short fiction by teens compiled by Tova Portmann-Bown; and a cookbook by Wiley Seckinger.
Seniors are encouraged to choose a topic they’re passionate about, said Acord. “As a result, the variety of projects we end up with is very impressive,” he said. “What I find even more impressive is that we are almost always able to pair each of our seniors with a mentor in the community no matter how complex the project or what level of expertise may be required.”
The students must devote at least 20 hours outside of class on their project and write a research paper. What follows is a sampling of their projects.
It was well into the dinner hour on a chilly February night and Zane Grubb had been at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery (OSB) in Winthrop since 9 a.m., chopping ingredients, mixing spices, and assembling burgers, fish and chips, and veggie quesadillas. “I don’t like to stress out, so — no matter the situation — I stay calm,” he said.
Grubb regularly whips up Mexican dishes, stir-fries and Vietnamese phở soup for his family. But that’s a far cry from cooking his own menu for dozens of paying customers at OSB.
Grubb started work on the menu at the end of last year, adapting his ideas to the ingredients on hand. His Chicken Saltimbocca Melt started out as Chicken Cordon Bleu, but Grubb swapped out the prosciutto for bacon. “I looked at recipes as a guideline, and then modified them,” he said.
Coming up with a unique Methow landmark for every letter of the alphabet was an absorbing project for Icel Sukovaty, who channeled her interests in art and poetry into an ABC book.
Some letters were easy — T for turkey and W for winter — but Sukovaty struggled to find a match for X. After rejecting suggestions of X-ray and xylophone, neither of which seemed particularly local, Sukovaty came up with the idea of X for “crossing,” to represent the signs around the valley alerting people to cattle crossings, tractor crossings and skier crossings.
When Mason Johnson was a kid, his head was filled with creative ideas, but he never had enough opportunities to build on them. So the Independent Learning Center senior wanted to provide an outlet for young kids to exercise their imagination.
Johnson launched and led a Dungeons & Dragons after-school Cub Club for fifth- and sixth-graders. As dungeon master, Johnson provided a story — a town threatened by bandits — and guided the kids as they made up characters and the story evolved over eight weeks.
Improvisation is a big part of the game. “There are no screens — it’s pen and paper entirely. It’s theater of the mind,” said Johnson.
When Angelique Kelley moved to the Methow last year after growing up in Tacoma and Seattle, she was surprised that school dances here were so staid — no one was dancing, she said.
“I’ve always been an independent person,” said Kelley. So she used her considerable energy to get others up and dancing, which led to a senior project to learn and teach Zumba, a combination of dance and fitness that’s become a workout sensation.
It took a while to feel she could fit in in the Methow. But Kelley found the small community let her be herself, whether through dance or through her personal style. Her hair was died a vibrant purple for the senior-project presentation. “Hair changes your appearance — and your confidence,” she said.
“It was easy to see the problem once I took it apart,” said Wyatt Scott, who rebuilt the diesel engine in a 2006 Ford F250. “It was pretty enjoyable.”
But Scott didn’t just rebuild the engine — he put in hundreds of hours of research to revamp the engine, an early prototype designed to meet emissions standards, so that it runs more efficiently and won’t overheat.
Writing poetry is not only a means of expressing ideas, but it also has proven therapeutic benefits. That’s part of what Lucia Clay learned from writing and publishing “Made of Clay,” a book of 19 original poems.
The poems are especially personal, part of Clay’s exploration of the soothing powers of poetry and art. Her research turned up a significant body of work on the therapeutic effects of art for people coping with mental illness or recovering from drug addiction.
Because her poetry is very personal, Clay hasn’t decided whether she will make the book available to the public, but she shared one poem she’d written about her mother with the group.
Depression is not only a central theme, but also a living, breathing character in “A Girl’s Mind.” Depression states its diabolical plan at the outset of Neela Mitchell’s novella: “I am a soul bender, a mind crusher and I am beyond lethal. I live in the shadows because when the spotlight is on me, I’m mocked…. I twist innocent people’s minds. I play with their emotions.”
Mitchell’s other characters include Sapphire, a lonely girl who keeps up a running dialogue with Depression, and Demitri, the friend who sees Sapphire’s creativity and humanity.
How do you convey an emotion on stage through music? Dean Hussey did just that last summer when he worked on sound design and created original music for the play “Bike America” at the Merc Playhouse. To build a mood that fit a dramatic turning point in the script, Hussey tweaked the tempo and velocity of notes and chords in a country song.
While Hussey’s senior project focused on the music for “Bike America,” he’s done sound design at the theater for half a dozen years — 26 shows and more than 900 service hours.
Future Liberty Bell students and staff will get a surge of school spirit when they walk by Chloe Temple’s spirit mural in the hallway. The mural includes the Liberty Bell spires in the North Cascades, colorful handprints, and words that describe the students: “caring, loving, helpful and open… exuberant, creative, adventurous.”
“When you’re kind to others and open to all people, the ripple effect happens,” said Kyleen Romero, who researched neuroscience to understand racial bias. She learned about the evolution of the brain and how the brain’s subconscious converts these experiences into defenses.
As a Chicana from an immigrant family, Romero said her project grew out of a personal experience with harassment. She wanted not only to understand the roots of bias, but also to find ways to diffuse it. Diffusing bias takes hyperawareness and kindness in all your interactions, she said. Romero encouraged people to take responsibility for their actions. “We’re society — every little thing we do changes a lot,” she said.