Stepping outside the box

Stepping+outside+the+box

Madeleine McCarthy

Students begin the day with stretches designed for their disabilities. Maya Pomfret, a child with Down Syndrome, balances on a yoga ball and tries to touch the ground.

In the future, an old classmate, Jay Parker, may be the designer of a new computer. Walk into the Fox Theatre and watch a play written, directed and produced by Sophie Deck. Maybe those of a future generation will speak a language invented by James Weigle.

For seven months, sophomores have been struggling to meet the looming deadlines of the long-term Personal Project. While some let this assignment linger in the back of their minds as another annoying task to complete, others have taken the opportunity to incorporate long-term goals into their projects.

The Middle Years Program (MYP) is a part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. To graduate from MYP, students are required to complete a personal project, commonly referred to as the sophomore project.

IB coordinator Wes Hatfield is in charge of overseeing the personal project. “The point of the personal project is to give you a chance to pursue something of interest to you outside of your other scholastic requirements,” Hatfield said.

Students pick a topic that they are interested in. Then they choose an Area of Interaction, or the focus of their project, and the connection it has to the real world. From there, students create goals for their project and work to achieve them.

 

Filming a documentary

In eighth grade, sophomore Jenna Hanes had the opportunity to spend a day as a teacher’s assistant at Winnona Park Elementary School. Hanes expected a relaxed day of singing the ABC’s and helping little kids wash sticky paint from their fingers.

Her predictions were far from reality. Hanes was assigned to work in the Special Education

Stewert Oxley attended a  Barbeque competition, where he  cooked three racks of ribs, 12  chicken thighs and two sauces.
Stewert Oxley attended a Barbeque competition, where he cooked three racks of ribs, 12 chicken thighs and two sauces.

room where four severely disabled kids spend most of their day.

“Three of them are brain damaged, none of them can talk and only one of them can walk,” Hanes said.

She expected to feel an underlying distress in the room, but her experience was inspiring instead. She discovered a place filled with loving teachers who did not simply serve as caregivers or guardians. Rather, these teachers took it into their hands to improve the students’ everyday lives and help them progress despite their setbacks.

“Even though there are all these issues, there’s this amazing atmosphere because they take it one step at a time,” Hanes said. “They don’t pressure these kids, but they don’t let them pass their lives by.”

When students were informed about the Personal Project, Hanes instantly knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to include the classroom dynamic she discovered back in Winnona Park and her love of video production, so she decided to film a documentary on the special education classroom.

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 9.38.41 AM (2)
Rachel Reed researched hiking for over four months, and then hiked 12 miles of the Appalachian Trail for a weekend.

Before beginning to film, Hanes had numerous tasks to complete. “I had to write out a letter about how I was going to approach the subject, why I wanted to make the documentary and how I was going to protect the childrens’ humanity,” Hanes said. “I sent out the letters to all of the parents, and I got permission from them to include their kids in my documentary.”

The idea of a documentary delighted many of the parents because “they love to have consciousness raised about [their] kids,” Hanes said.

After Hanes received permission to film the kids, she talked to the principal who approved her idea. Hatfield, Principal Lauri McKain and advisor Debra LeDoux, worked with Jenna on the logistics of filming during school.Hanes filmed for two days. She taped the activities and skills the children practiced every day such as motor skills and basic reading and math. The teachers placed an emphasis on alternative forms of communication.

“The communication is not verbal, but they have actions they can do,” Hanes said. “One boy can kick his foot for yes.”

She chose to focus on special education because she wanted people to know that disabilities do not make anyone less of a person.

“You see past their disabilities, and you realize they’re just children who learn and see the world differently,” Hanes said.

Jack Brozek created his own successful clothing company “For The City.” He has sold shirts, sweatshirts, stickers and more.
Jack Brozek created his own successful clothing company “For The City.” He has sold shirts, sweatshirts, stickers and more.

Producing a play

Sophomore Sophie Deck guides her grandfather back to the living room. She holds his hand and reminds him that he is not surrounded by dying, shrieking children but is in fact in the comfort of his own home.

Randolph Lumb, Deck’s grandfather, lives with Parkinson’s disease, which develops when neurons in the brain die or get injured. It causes motor disability, tremors, stiffness and impairment of muscles.

Harper Ford plays Deck in Sophie Deck’s play. Sophie tries to get the cast to talk and hang out with her family, so  they can better understand their characters and the Deck family as a whole.
Harper Ford plays Deck in Sophie Deck’s play. Sophie tries to get the cast to talk and hang out with her family, so
they can better understand their characters and the Deck family as a whole.

Over the past five years, Deck’s grandfather’s functionality has deteriorated, while his medication has made him delusional.

“My grandfather once thought he saw a bus full of Girl Scouts slaughtered in the parking lot

Simona Covarrubias teaches aeriel silk dancing every Saturday to dancers 11 to 18 years old.
Simona Covarrubias teaches aeriel silk dancing every Saturday to dancers 11 to 18 years old.

outside his apartment,” Deck said.

Her grandfather’s Parkinson’s Disease directly impacts Deck’s life, and relationships within

her family.

“I have learned how to care for him and ignore his delusional accusations,” Deck said. “It has created a big divide between him and my brother because
of an offensive hallucination. It takes a toll on everyone, but in reality it’s just bad for him, and anyway that we can help is
good because we’re family and he needs us.”

Deck wants others to understand Parkinson’s disease, so she decided to write, direct and produce a play for her personal project. This process has required strict deadlines and commitment. She spent about 20 hours writing the play. Four hours have been dedicated to practices, but she estimates that she will spend at least 20 more hours on practices before the final performance on Dec. 19 in the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

The process of production is time consuming for Deck. She had to find a cast that was willing

Tommy Renfroe sought to improve the strength and performance of athletes, so he invented a new energy drink.
Tommy Renfroe sought to improve the strength and performance of athletes, so he invented a new energy drink.

to put in time after school. She also had to set up rehearsals and schedule space in the theatre to perform the finished play.

For Deck, the most nerveracking part of the process has been writing a play that she feels will be impressive enough to perform publicly.

Deck hopes her audience will learn one important thing from her play.

“Even though people get old, can seem crazy, overbearing and annoying, they’re still a part of your life and just life in general,” Deck said. “Family is important and if you can’t count on those who are closest to you, you’re kind of screwed.”

 

Inventing a new language

What does one call the hybrid color of nail polish that is neither red nor orange, but an unusual mix of both? How does a mother describe the exact feeling of watching her child`s life slip away in a hospital bed? This inability to put certain perceptions and senses into words is what influenced sophomore James Weigle’s personal project.

“This is Lumen`s alphabet organized by vowels and consonants,” Weigle said.
“This is Lumen`s alphabet organized by vowels and consonants,” Weigle said.

Weigle set out to construct a new language that could express the million shades of grey behind emotions, as well as describe feelings that sometimes seem unexplainable.

“My language is universal. Unlike a lot of engineered languages, which are designed for specific subjects, my language can express everything equally well. I wanted to be able to describe my own emotion and create a medium that could do it explicitly,” Weigle said.

Weigle is synesthetic, meaning he perceives sound, taste, smell, pain and emotions as colors.

Ruby Lewis is getting her pilot’s liscence and flying a plane by herself for an hour.
Ruby Lewis is getting her pilot’s liscence and flying a plane by herself for an hour.

To him, listening to music would be equivalent to observing an abstract painting coming to life. By living life through color, Weigle enjoys a different outlook on language.

“What I have noticed in English is that emotions are usually only described in terms of their intensity – how happy, rather than what I see as their
color – that is, what kind of happiness,” Weigle said.

His language derives from this observation. It is called Lumen, meaning illumination or “bringing to light what was formerly mysterious.” Designed to allow one to verbalize personal descriptions and feelings, it is compiled of infinitely complex words that are based off of Latin roots and model a language found in Lord of the Rings.

Languages exhilarate Weigle; they are not only aesthetically appealing to him, but also comforting. Fondness for languages seems to run in the family. Weigle’s mom, Sarah Weigle, chair of the Department of Applied Linguistics at Georgia State University, is proud of Weigle’s passion for his creation.

“I am looking forward to seeing James’ finished product,” Sarah said. “Creating a new

Savannah Guenther is writing a science fiction novel that she will publish.
Savannah Guenther is writing a science fiction novel that she will publish.

language requires analytic skills and a solid understanding of the nature of language. It is also a very creative endeavor and I think James will learn a lot from this project.”

Creating Lumen was a challenging but rewarding task for Weigle. He wants to study languages such as German or Arabic in the future, and by pursuing his project, his desires have only intensified.

To evaluate his project, Weigle is going to translate the poem “Flood Letters” by Karin Gottshall into Lumen. According to Weigle, the poem expresses loneliness in subtle ways, making it difficult to translate, but also makes it the perfect poem to choose in order to illustrate the purpose and beauty of his language.

The personal project is by no means a burden to Weigle, but rather allows him to spend time on what he loves.

“Creating the language has made me realize that it’s not all about an explicit and austere meaning,” Weigle said. “Much of life is in the joy of ambiguity, subjective quirks and aimless whimsy. Maybe I’ll never know my life’s meaning, but it’s not about that. I guess it’s about discovery.”

Katie Neil wore a blind fold for three days to experience blindness. She filmed herself and used the footage to create a documentary.
Katie Neil wore a blind fold for three days to experience blindness. She filmed herself and used the footage to create a documentary.