East Lyme WISE Program Shows What WISE Is All About

The East Lyme High School WISE Team, January 2017


Internship program? Independent Study program? One-on-One Mentoring? Researching?  Journaling? Presenting?

We all know that WISE is far more than the sum of its parts. And that was brought home, in no uncertain terms, as East Lyme High School came to the end of its first semester WISE program. Student work was on display on two different occasions: an after-school Expo in which WISE students put on exhibit, and spoke about, all that they had done for the past few months; and a classroom presentation session the following day in which they spoke, individually and eloquently, about what they had accomplished and about their plans going forward even as they spoke. The projects were, of course, impressive; the students assured and articulate; the praise fulsome. But perhaps the most outstanding feature of it all was the obvious group dynamics, developed over the course of the fall semester, on full display as students supported, encouraged, gently teased and stood up for each other.

Individualized but….

We often forget, with our (quite correct) emphasis on the individual within the WISE program that WISE is not just an individualized experience – it is a communal experience.
Different students go out on their own and do their very own specific thing sparked by their own particular interest, forging their own special relationship with their mentor and creating a unique experience. But they also return to the WISE group, the WISE class, throughout the WISE period and share their experiences with each other. That sometimes daily, at least weekly, contact with WISE as the shared focus, creates a dynamic different from that of the traditional classroom; it resembles the bond found in collaborative groups in successful workplaces. It is one more example of the way in which WISE prepares youngsters to go out and succeed in the adult world that awaits them. 

The East Lyme Experience

East Lyme has been doing WISE for many years but does it slightly differently from most WISE schools. WISE is open to both juniors and seniors. Students may elect a semester of WISE – or four semesters should they so choose. It is open to any and every student and meets twice a week for one block period each time. The results: a wonderful mixture of student and project.

WISE EXPO: Pura Vida for St. Jude’s

This year’s first semester group, shepherded by Freda Gianokos who has been at this for we won’t say how many years, was as eclectic and productive as ever. Eleven students were enrolled this time, most of them seniors (a few from last year signing on for still more) but a few juniors as well. On Wed., January 11, they gave their presentations in class, to an audience that included other school staff, the Principal, Michael Susi, WISE community member Dr. Frank Maletz, and WISE Community Coordinator, Ellen Nodelman.  The presentations were not long – but they were full and pithy.

Presenters included:

Andrew A, a junior headed for a business career, who started off with the idea of learning about the stock market and business management but ended up broadening his horizons to focus on arousing interest in business among others. He founded a chapter of FBLA at East Lyme so others could not only begin exploring business options while still in high school but could learn about ethics in business and those things that you don’t learn in school but will need outside in the real business world.

NIcole B, a second year WISE participant, wants to be a police office and has a special interest in the intersection of first responders and mental health. Last year she did a project on first responders; this year she combined her interest in first responders and mental health by involving herself in dual internships – one at a firehouse, one in a special ed classroom – and working on certification. Needless to say, she is continuing her internship second semester.

Exhibit Poster & Costume for Cosplay Character

Selena C, who is interested in a career in screenwriting originally planned on making a video but found that was too difficult, too expensive. Casting around for something else to do, she discovered that she could take her childhood love of dress-up to a new level with Cosplay, becoming part of the online Cosplay community, attending conventions and creating costumes for her character, Mercy, that she hopes to complete, second semester, in time for the next Cosplay convention

Victoria C, who is headed for a career in film and tv and has been since third grade, ended up with not one but TWO TV internships, one at Groton Municipal TV, the other at Valley Shore Community TV. At first she had hoped for work with a major network, but she found that she could learn just as much, perhaps even more, at smaller venues. She managed to juggle all this successfully along with her school work and her ongoing volunteering in school and at school functions.

Abigail H started off with no idea of what she wanted to do for a project but KNEW the one thing that she wanted to do is to make a difference. She wanted to Change the World and found that she could do so successfully through East Lyme’s very own Extravaganza. She went on to create other fundraising projects for many different charities, projects that succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Astronomy for Kids Poster

 Jack McD took his passion for astronomy and brought it to children in one of East Lyme’s own elementary schools.  Through his project, Astronomy for Kids, he introduced third graders to the wonders of it all and opened up an avenue for younger students to do their own WISE projects with their third grade science teacher and JACK as COORDINATOR next semester. He now sees teaching astronomy as a possibility for his future.

Naomi O, someone who has been riding since she was five years old, channeled her love for horses into a WISE project, beginning with an ambitious project working with a badly trained horse and turned that into something a bit less complex (and dangerous.) She ended up developing a new, and demanding, equine skill, riding “reining” horses”, something even an expert rider such as she found challenging.

Caylie P wanted to work with kids and perhaps intern at a hospital, but realized that her opportunities to work hands on with children would be limited and that her best chance at doing something meaningful for children was raising money for kids with cancer. She began a fundraising project, Pura Vida for St. Jude’s, and has gained the opportunity to do a two-week internship, this summer, at St. Jude’s.

Demonstrating Technology behind Chiptunes

Samuel S quietly took his own consuming interest in music and entrepreneurship and in Chiptunes, something he has been pursuing for the past five years. He used his WISE Time to create new chiptunes and market them successfully over social media. So successfully, in fact, that his idea of going into the music business has been solidified as the path he wishes to follow.

And Melina V, who took two very different interests – in business and in medicine – and combined them in an exploration of Healthcare Administration, something she did both through research into the field and through job shadowing.  She has now found the career she wishes to enter, one through which she hopes to be part of the process of improving hospital environments.

Mackenzie M was not present the day of the in-class presentations but had as her project, one called Author?,  investigating the realities of a writing career. Someone who likes to write, she looked into the possibility of pursuing a career in writing and wrote a lot of poetry during the project. Her conclusion: No! So she will take a gap year after graduation and decide what it is that she DOES want to do.

Some of the take-aways from these presentations:

  • WISE gave students both the opportunity to do something they really wanted to do and the structure they needed to do that successfully.
  • WISE was a chance to pursue even unlikely passions and pastimes.
  • Future WISE students should be prepared to work – it’s all on YOU.
  • You learn you have to stick to your plan – or you’ll get side tracked. But even that – in fact everything – is a learning experience.
  • Once you know what you want to do, take off with it. Don’t hesitate. Even mistakes will help you learn.
  • It’s as important to learn about what you don’t want to do as what you do.
  • And the support that you get from your mentors, from your peers in WISE and from East Lyme WISE teacher Freda Gianokos, is fabulous!



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