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Middletown Life

Senior Projects

Dec 30, 2020 01:22PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

Here are some of this year’s most interesting senior projects required by the Appoquinimink School District. They challenge high school seniors “to demonstrate not only what they know, but what they can do” and “exhibit their skills in problem formation and research, written and oral communication and synthesis and application of knowledge.”

Nurturing young performers

Appoquinimink High School senior Emily Dina organized and ran a district theater camp in July of 2019 for young children. The camp builds on her own experience – she started acting when she was in third grade – and built up her intended career in theater education.

Emily in 2018 volunteered in a similar camp, also run out of the high school, and Ray Gravuer, who coordinates Summer Enrichment Camps, suggested that she develop a senior project from it. “It taught me a lot,” she said, “about how much time you need to devote to planning, how patient you need to be, how to be a role model and how to thoroughly communicate my ideas to campers of all ages.”

The campers, as young as first graders, learned music and movement for three songs each week in camp, which ran from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, culminating in a performance. The camp drew between 12 and 20 campers each week, some new and some repeating for her three themes: Kids Stars (musicals starring kids), Musicals Through the Decades and Disney Musicals.

A majority of the campers auditioned for the high school’s production of “Oliver,” a musical strengthened by increasing the number of singing and dancing urchins. Emily played Widow Corney in the show, which was produced in March, and, as president of the local chapter of the International Thespian Society, she also used the show’s themes to increase awareness about social ills like poverty.

On improving lambing

Appoquinimink High School senior Grace Valleley got a head start on her college plans to study agriculture by working with sheep. Her thesis: If all the sheep on a farm gave birth at the same time, “it would reduce stress on workers, shorten the lambing process and ensure more accurate care.” Her work: “I was paid in experience.” Her results: “Perfect.”

Stephen Cook of Cool-Rock Stock on Frazer Road taught Grace, who lives in Middletown, all about lambing, and last fall they used implants and feed additives to sync the Cooks’ ewes’ estrus cycles.

The births this spring were closer together, with more multiple births, than last year, she said, adding that she’s not sure if that’s a side effect of the regimen. Grace also paid it forward by teaching Appoquinimink sophomores Haley Drysdale and Sydney Spence about lambing while they helped her in the overnights they devoted to welcoming the newborns into the world.

In 2019, six ewes had eight lambs. This year 21 ewes are mothering the 15 healthy lambs who have survived. Lambing last year spanned from January to February, and this year it has spanned from January to March. Grace hopes her work helps build up Delaware’s market for lamb meat.

Marathons for suicide awareness

Appoquinimink High School senior Aubrey Shearer created a 24-hour running event to raise awareness about suicide by teens and veterans. She was inspired by a friend who committed suicide and friends who are veterans. “Running is a way to help with my mental health, something to focus on, an outlet,” she said, adding that it’s “the one thing I have in common” with the rest of her family.

The event debuted in 2018, with about 100 people collectively running about 700 miles. Her senior project followed in 2019, with double the number of participants, running about 1,200 miles. Both years raised about $5,000 for the Mental Health Association in Delaware’s teenage suicide programs and Rebuilding Warriors’ suicide programs. A third rendition is planned for June 5 and 6 at Appoquinimink High, with details at

In 2019, 21 people – including Aubrey and her father, Andrew – ran in all 24 hours, hyped up by the importance of the event and ancillary activities, plus doughnuts and coffee. Aubrey said that she and a few friends stayed up as long as they could and then dozed in a tent for breaks in the predawn hours.

Aubrey, who runs cross country and track, plans to major in psychology and visual communication at the University of Delaware, where she also plans to be part of the running club.

Fairy tales and forensics

A few students from Kelly Palaisa’s forensics class at Appoquinimink High School mixed forensics and fairy tales for their senior projects at Cedar Lane Elementary’s STEM Night in February. “I also love that they are all young women promoting STEM,” she said. “It adds something to their projects.”

Emily Nhan expanded the Cinderella story: Not just her accoutrements are missing after the ball, but so was Cinderella. She set up a scavenger hunt, and the 60-plus participants also examined hair under a microscope: blonde from Cinderella, dyed from her stepsister and gray from her grandmother. The solution – which 90 percent of the pupils figured out from assessing about 10 pieces of evidence – was that the fairy godmother did it, “as a spell that went haywire,” she said. “Some parents were so intrigued that they wanted to solve the case on their own. They did even better.”

Jillian Wyatt set up three stations – footprints, strands of hair and fingerprints on bowls of porridge – for pupils to figure out who ransacked the Three Bears’ house. The suspects were the Giant, the Big Bad Wolf, the Wicked Witch, Captain Hook and Goldilocks. “They were all characters that the kids would know,” she said, and the detectives “knew right away” who the guilty party was. The evidence all pointed at Goldilocks, said Jillian, who plans to major in nursing and minor in forensics in college.

In Kayla Ferguson’s setup, Little Red Riding Hood used knowledge that she had acquired in forensics class to collect evidence in the case of her missing grandmother, with the suspects being the Cat, the Rabbit and the Wolf. The evidence included three types of animal hair (plus her own as Grandma), three types of bite marks (her own, costume-store vampire teeth and friend Alexis Druss), footprints and a note in Morse code (which spelled out “I took Grandma. Sincerely, the Wolf”). Kayla hopes to work in forensic psychology. “It combines two of my favorite things.”

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