LONDONDERRY, Vt. – For anyone wondering what’s on the minds of today’s middle schoolers, just check out the students at the Flood Brook School. Some 70 seventh and eighth graders recently showcased their work at the annual Personal Interest Project (PIP). For eight weeks, creative youngsters carved 70 minutes out of their weekly classroom schedule, plus time outside of school, to pursue a single subject that piqued their wholehearted attention.
“The idea is to give each student an opportunity to transfer the fundamental skills they develop in class into learning more about something important to them,” says Cliff DesMarais, middle school instructor. “They were offered tools for help, including mini lessons on research techniques, time management, and presentation skills. But in the end, the kids were self-directed, no one told them what they needed to learn about.”
The result was a display of wide ranging and deep passions, all culminating in an exhibition in the school courtyard. Students, staff, and parents circulated through the show, checking out the exhibits, discussing the projects, listening to presentations, and taking pride in the work of each student.
Some students paid homage to activities or heroes – gymnastics, basketball, movie making, skateboarding, ski-racing, superstar athletes, and musicians. One girl, for example, created a poster celebrating the music of Eddie Van Halen. While strumming a guitar, Rose Shum discussed her attraction to music.
“My dad had a Nirvana album that captured my attention,” said Shum. “I started to listen to music from the 80s and heard the song ‘Jump,’ and that was all it took. I wanted to play the guitar.” In addition to Van Halen, Shum likes the music of Metallica. “I love the sound but the message is powerful too. They sing about the danger of being mastered by drugs.”
Many of the projects required hands-on construction. One student created a blue windmill using spoons as the whirling arms. Another built a small guitar from a cigar box and parts of an old broken ukulele. A young girl taught herself how to make a stuffed animal.
“My grandmother collects stuffed bears, so I decided to make one for her,” said Isla Tweedy. “Once I got started, it was easier than I thought. I made the nose by stitching black thread in the shape of a triangle.”
The hardest part? “Getting the glass eyes to stay on the bear.”
Perhaps, it was no surprise that sustenance stole the show – artisanal cookies, cakes, and cupcakes were plentiful. “My father is a chef and I love to bake,” says one girl. “I made 85 cupcakes last night!”
There was also a great deal of interest in international cuisine, including:
- Jamaican: “My father is from Jamaica and I love the food.”
- Bahamian: “I first went to the islands when I was three. Conch fritters and cornbread are my favorites.”
- French: “I wanted to serve snails for my friends.”
- Jewish: “I crave potato latkes and I’ve learned to make a great matzo soup.”
- Japanese: “I’ve always loved sushi, so why not make it myself?”
Some projects evolved during the eight week process. “I started out inspired to make my own pickles, but then I thought I should do more,” said Ellery Reed. The result was a charcuterie board with sausages, cheese, olives, fruit, crackers, and of course, pickles. It was a tray of food that looked almost too beautiful to eat.
For the first time since COVID, this year’s PIP Exhibition was open to the community. Parents circulated through the crowd, asking questions of the students, talking with teachers and friends, all enjoying the camaraderie on a sunny spring day. “The crowd is larger than expected,” says DesMarais. “This is a wonderful experience for our families and kids.”
As the exhibition came to a close, the younger elementary students rushed in to join the celebration. Those 85 cupcakes? Gone in a flash.