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Mahar-X event gives students a chance to geek out

  • Henry Ndayisaba and his sister Jessica Gilmore give a presentation on the refugee crisis in Europe and Africa, at the Mahar-X event at Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School. For the Recorder/Carson McGrath



For the Recorder
Monday, June 11, 2018

ORANGE — At 6 years old, Henry Ndayisaba lived in an African refugee camp surrounded by war, with limited food and unclean drinking water.

Today, he is a student at the Mahar Regional High School.

Ndayisaba was able to share his story alongside his sister, Jessica Gilmore, as part of an event called “Mahar-X,” recently held at the high school. The event provided an opportunity for students and teachers to showcase their passions, interests, expertise and innovative projects for a day of presentations throughout the school.

“When I walk in the street here, it is like a different world,” Ndayisaba said. “I think about what it was like in Africa and what it is like for the people who still live there. Sometimes, I still get messages from my friends in Africa, and it makes me think of how much I have now — not just the money, but the people around me.”

Mahar teacher Keith Bevan said about a year ago, the school formed an Innovation Team. Through discussions with other teachers, he said, the idea for Mahar-X was born.

“Instead of having the band concert one day, the art show another day and the science fair on a separate day, we wanted to combine all of those things into one day. We also wanted to open up the floor to additional presentations from classrooms or individual students,” said Bevan.

Students could choose to attend three presentations throughout the day. Following lunch, Mahar’s clubs and sports teams set up booths for students to freely visit at their leisure.

Teacher John Speek said the day was planned to encourage students’ passions.

“We are here because we want to inspire you. We want you to understand what you want to do with your education, and then we want you to go out and do it,” said Speek.

Members of the Mahar Innovation Team won a $15,000 grant from Mass IDEAS, an initiative from Next Generation Learning Challenges at the nonprofit EDUCAUSE. In order to host Mahar-X, Bevan said, about $3,000 of the grant was used to purchase supplies, such as a projector and tent.

Presentations were held by individual students and teachers on topics ranging from suicide prevention to the importance of clean rivers. Jessica Wilson, a sophomore at Mahar, shared tips about the warning signs of depression and suicide to a classroom full of students.

“This is something really serious. These are people’s lives at risk,” she said.

Students were also able to listen to stories written by fellow peers in the creative writing class, along with listening to the chorus and band perform in the morning.

Bevan said that looking ahead, the school hopes to refine the event and eventually invite local community members and businesses to collaborate. Speek affectionately called the students “geeks” and said everyone should have the platform to express their “geekhood.”

“Why not give teenagers an audience?” he said. “Why not allow them to show their ‘geekhood’ and their expertise? Why not put that on display — and that is what we are doing here.”