Project Vine maintains community despite distance

Project Vine students gathered around a table last December to decorate gingerbread houses. Photo courtesy of Project Vine website

Sara Creato

While the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) has experienced many changes as a result of remote learning due to COVID-19, the alternative education program Project Vine has been finding ways to remain interconnected, which is an aspect of the program that is essential to its mission.

Project Vine consists of 30-48 students between 9th and 12th grade who are provided with the opportunity to learn through alternative instructional strategies while also participating in stimulating, collaborative activities. 

“The teachers’ main priority for their Project Vine students is connecting with them,” said math teacher Ellen Muir. “The focus is on community and getting to know the students.”

In comparison to mainstream education, Project Vine’s educators are more collaborative with each other when it comes to their shared group of students. “We work as a team,” said history teacher Joel Graves. “We’re always talking about our shared pool of students, and we work as a unit. If somebody’s not successful in English, they might be doing something good in math, in history, and we can pick each other’s brains.”  

Before the transition to remote learning, Project Vine had the goal of organizing one community-based activity per month. Some of these activities included an overnight retreat to Penikese Island, a cornhole tournament and barbeque fundraiser, and a cooking competition based on the television show Chopped, where the proceeds are donated to the Island Food Pantry. Although many of these traditions are currently unable to happen, teachers have found ways to host some of these events safely.  

The annual Island Lore storytelling event, for example, where seniors research Island history and write short stories based on it, occurred over Zoom with a record attendance of 40 people. English teacher and department chair Dani Charbonneau found a silver lining in the new format. “I think for some students, [participating on Zoom] was easier than standing in front of a crowd with a microphone,” she said.

Mr. Graves feels that Project Vine holds an advantage over mainstream education in terms of sustaining community. “I think we have a huge, unfair advantage as compared to the rest of the adults in this building, given that when the year started, we already knew all of our kids. So it wasn’t like I had a room full of strangers that I had to try to figure out who [they] were and how to teach [them] via Zoom,” he said. “The fact that we’re able to continue to keep kids involved was because we already built those relationships with them ahead of time. Whereas for mainstream teachers, every year you get a new batch of kids.”  

Junior Marsha Stewart said, “Project Vine is like my second family. We all have a friendship with one another, since we are a small group,” she said. “I couldn’t be more happy to be a part of the family, and I’m glad to see how far we’ve come.” 

According to Ms. Charbonneau, it’s the students themselves that make Project Vine unique. “It’s the people who are part of it and who have chosen to be in Project Vine that help distinguish it,“ she said. “Most of them weren’t really big fans of high school for one reason or another. There’s not a unifying factor as to what everybody disliked, so we try to make the experience of being part of Project Vine feel better for those people.”