Projects with passion


The cafeteria of Wrightsville Beach School was packed full of third, fourth and fifth graders Friday, May 22, along with carefully designed and lettered colorful tri-fold posters. The students, all participants in the school’s Academically/Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program, presented research projects to the school and community from 8:30-10:30 a.m.

Third graders Tyler Beacham and Isabella Cox wore purple and green floor-length gowns as they told spectators about the Bellamy Mansion.

“We went on a walking tour in the fall and we were really interested in it,” Beacham said. “The Bellamy Mansion is about 200 years old. It was built 1859 to 1861.”

Beacham and Cox also described their favorite rooms.

“My favorite is the children’s room. … It has a little cradle for the baby and a nice window,” Beacham said.

Cox was partial to the kitchen.

“The basement is actually the kitchen, she explained. “The kitchen was put inside the basement because it was cooler to prevent kitchen fires.” Cox also mentioned the fire that damaged the home’s interior in 1972.

The girls decorated their poster to look like the front of the mansion. They included three-dimensional green shutters and a path of crushed oyster shells in front of the house.

“There’s an oyster path that leads to the garden, so we tried to recreate it,” Beacham said.

Fifth grader Elliott Wilt decorated her poster with butterfly stickers. Wilt researched the butterfly gardens at Airlie Gardens.

“When I found out I could do a project on it, I was really, really happy,” she said.

Wilt identified each butterfly species on her poster with enthusiasm.

“I like the buckeye,” she said. “The giant swallowtail is our state butterfly.”

John Allen Jr. was equally enthusiastic about his research on the Cape Fear Serpentarium.

“I started going there a couple years ago. I was interested in all the snakes. … They have about 400 snakes there,” he said. “My favorite is the emerald tree boa.”

To learn more about the serpentarium, Allen interviewed its owner and founder, Wilmington native Dean Ripa. Ripa has traveled to more than 30 countries and received 12 snakebites, Allen explained.

Avery Jones chose to research friendlier creatures. The fifth grader volunteered at Coastal Animal Rescue Effort (CARE).

“I shadowed a veterinarian,” she said. Jones said her experience made her want to become a veterinarian one day.

Jones covered her poster with photographs of dogs and cats from CARE.

“They’re all up for adoption,” she said.

Jones pointed at a picture of a cat named Sherbert.

“He has three legs, but you can’t tell. He runs like he has five. He’s a brave little dude,” she said.

Jones’ friend Riley Johnson also volunteered to help animals. Johnson spent five hours at Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program helping disabled people learn how to ride horses.

“It makes you realize that people need you and it’s amazing,” she said.

Johnson said riding horses is an excellent way for people with mental and physical disabilities to exercise.

“It improves their balance, it improves their strength and it improves their coordination,” she said.

Johnson encouraged people to help Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program by placing a donation box in front of her poster. She also encouraged people to volunteer.

Katherine Kochakji, Wrighsville Beach School’s AIG program instructor, said she encouraged the students to pick something they have a personal interest in for their research topic.

“Riley has been taking horseback lessons for many years now. She has a passion for horses,”  Kochakji said. “I told the kids, before they even chose their topic, to choose something they had a passion for. You want them to take pride in their work and have fun with it.”

The students spent three months working on their projects.

“Most of the projects were done completely at home; however, I did offer them time in class to work on them if they needed to,” Kochakji said. “This is the third year we’ve done the history fair. The fifth graders have an option between doing research on local history or a service project.”

The history and service projects were a way to challenge academically gifted students beyond their regular course work. Kochakji said students must qualify for the AIG program before they are invited to participate.

“For New Hanover County, we have a process of identification that includes multiple criteria, including test scores,” she said.

Fourth-graders Anders Jensen and Rahul Kaycee challenged themselves by researching Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD).

“It provides different types of services, such as clinical services. … If a drug needs to be tested, a patient can volunteer somewhere, and they see how the patient responds to the drug,” Kaycee said. “It got started in 1985. It was a one-person company in Maryland.”

Jensen said the company has grown significantly during the past 30 years.

“PPD has locations all over the world,” he said.


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