PVPA’s class of 2024 urged to play and work as they head into the world

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates celebrate as a passing motorists honks prior their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates celebrate as a passing motorists honks prior their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher Evans

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduate Emma Larouche of Northampton poses for classmate’s camera prior to their graduation ceremony.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduate Emma Larouche of Northampton poses for classmate’s camera prior to their graduation ceremony. FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher Evans

FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher EvansPioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduate Emma Larouche of Northampton poses for classmate’s camera prior to their graduation ceremony.

FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher EvansPioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduate Emma Larouche of Northampton poses for classmate’s camera prior to their graduation ceremony.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates Halla Jacintho, left, Caraline Casey, Madeleine Veras, and Arin Andrew, right, sing prior to their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday. Below, Ivy Eldridge celebrates after receiving her diploma. For more photos, visit the story on gazettenet.com.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates Halla Jacintho, left, Caraline Casey, Madeleine Veras, and Arin Andrew, right, sing prior to their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday. Below, Ivy Eldridge celebrates after receiving her diploma. For more photos, visit the story on gazettenet.com. FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher Evans

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher Evans

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton. for the gazette/Chrstopher Evans

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton. for the gazette/Chrstopher Evans

for the gazette/Chrstopher EvansPioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

for the gazette/Chrstopher EvansPioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates perform during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates sing during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduates sing during their graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton. for the gazette/Chrstopher Evans

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduate Ivy Eldridge celebrates during the school’s graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School class of 2024 graduate Ivy Eldridge celebrates during the school’s graduation ceremony at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Thursday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Chrstopher Evans

By SAMUEL GELINAS

For the Gazette

Published: 06-07-2024 4:14 PM

Modified: 06-07-2024 5:03 PM


NORTHAMPTON — Rather than advising his students to read a book a week the rest of their lives, or egg them on to achieve the impossible, Brent Nielsen rallied Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School graduates on Thursday to preserve one of their most unique and valuable life tools: play.

“The graduates here this evening have shown their resilience through challenging times and their unsolvable desire to play. I ask you today: never lose that,” said the head of school, speaking from a podium center stage at Northampton’s Academy of Music where 56 members of the class of 2024 received their diplomas.

Like many graduation speakers this spring, Nielson touched on the pandemic and how students were sent home in March 2020. Later, half the students had returned to the classroom, “awkwardly sitting 6 feet away from everybody ... while the rest of the kids were at home, on their screens, probably with their cameras off, doing all sorts of things, ” he said.

This was received with a laugh, but Nielsen was quick to remind the audience of the sober reality of that era as being a “bizarre” and “awkward time.” It wasn’t until Aug. 31, 2021 that the South Hadley charter school brought students back in person full time.

When school shut down, the class of 2024 were eighth graders. When they came back, they were sophomores. “I still remember early on in that 2021-2022 school year when you came back as sophomores ... you all really missed the way things were in middle school,” said Nielsen. “You missed the freedoms you had. You missed the old schedule. You missed lots of things. But most importantly ... you missed the four square ball.”

Quoting Peter Gray’s book, “Free to Learn,” Nielsen praised free play as an outlet for children to, “use their imagination, express their creativity, and learn to deal with and respond to the unexpected.”

“I can’t stress enough how important that is. It has worked for you, the graduates of 2024.”

He related the concept of practice and mental craftsmanship with that of play, stating that “practice is a form of play ... experimenting with what you love until it becomes your own.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Knitters’ paradise: Webs, ‘America’s Yarn Store’ and a mainstay for Valley crafters for generations, turns 50
Easthampton to lose Pepin school gymnasium as public recreation space
Easthampton’s 11 Ferry St. project promises affordable five-story, 96-unit complex
Taylor Haas takes the reins as new executive director at Three County Fairgrounds
Sunderland receives $195K grant to study, design multi-use trail from Whately to Amherst

In their own speeches, members of the class of 2024 called on their classmates to embrace change and adaptability as they pursue their next projects.

Coralia Melendez, in a joint speech with Starr Ward, said that, “we are all nervous about what is to come in the chapters of our lives ... that nervousness will turn to excitement, and new growth. Embrace this change.”

Ward, who will be attending Spelman College and plans on studying film and psychology, shared her message that positive change, rather than simply change, comes through action.

“It’s OK to make mistakes. That’s how we learn,” said Fionna Yates in her own speech, which touched on friendship, adulthood and family.

Describing the ethos of the school, she called PVPA “a tightknit messy little family,” but ultimately “caring.”

“Remember having fun experiences with classmates, from senior sunrise to senior sunset, to daily classroom moments of silliness and learning alike,” leading the audience through a litany of PVPA memories.

“We went from being goofball middle-schoolers ...” to future leaders, listing off the various colleges graduates will be going off to.

In keeping with the school’s mission that students have an “intensive exposure to the performing arts,” short presentations were given between speeches, relieving the somewhat stiff pageantry characterizing many graduations. These presentations ranged from displays of puppetry, to new pop with choreography and singing, all with attention to lighting and other effects.

As is traditional for the community, a Grad Show was featured the night before, with a showcase of the performing art school’s talent.

Dominic Carrano, a graduate, called the night “surreal.” “I was at PVPA for six years. I can’t believe it went by so fast.”

He will be pursuing culinary studies at Holyoke Community College in the fall. His classmate, Jay Jones, shared that he has had, “a great time at PVPA,” despite all the ups and downs, adding that there is a lot of room for being “out there,” giving you the ability to, “pursue what you want to pursue.”

David Potter, president of the board of trustees, praised the student body for their commitment to practice, and refining their crafts. “Our proverbial hats are off to you. You did the work.”

Pausing, he went on to add: “You turned in the work. You revised the work. You turned the work in again,” centering in on the theme of persistence.

“You experimented and innovated ... over many performances, no matter the venue,” as they tried to “find their own voice,” while cultivating “teamwork.”

“In many respects, your habits of work and learning are your voice. Most of here in the adult world don’t use the quadratic formula or write five paragraph essays,” emphasizing the highlight of good education as being the ability to artfully adapt.

Potter thanked parents and students, “to the nth degree; to infinity and beyond,” extending thanks also, “to the truly dedicated, progressive, patient, thoughtful, and exhausted teachers, staff, and administrators of PVPA.”

Melinda Winter, member of the PVPA board of trustees, shared said students end up pursuing a variety of accomplishments in their post-secondary life. Some have gone on to Boston University or the Massachusetts Institute of Fine Arts, while others become “environmental science majors in the middle of Maine.”

As a testament to the enduring legacy the school has on its kids, Winter said that, “our kids come back,” oftentimes as teachers. Her own son Jay Winter, who had attended PVPA, works as theatre manager.

Founded in 1996, PVPA serves 400 students grades 7-12, with a staff of about 80.

Graduates

Aaron Baymon, Ajika Sawyer, Alexander Wilga, Ang Silansky, Arin Andrews, Bodhi Hermann, Burton Gawron, Caraline Casey, Carmen M. Quiñones-Negroni, Clayton Conklin, Coralia Melendez, Dominic Carrano, Ela Butler, Eliyah Villalobos-Sharone, Moe Avila Langmore, Edalena Savage, Egan Levine, Eliza Tuthill, Emma Larouche, Fiona Finn Yates, Fraise Pitts, Gabriela Ortega, Halla Jacintho, Hayleigh Cayo, Isali Silva, Ivy Eldridge, Jack Green, Jack Zackheim, Jay Jones, Jamil Yanez, Jan Nunez Gonzalez, Joseph Fitzgerald, Kai Langelier, Leo Rivera, Lillie Deblois, Liv Hann, Lucas Romero, Madeline Veras, Makena Ananda Holesovsky, Max Doisneau, Maxx Scott, Maya-Starr Ward, Mia Isabel Yanez, Midaz Lily Campbell, Nicholas Lapointe, Nikolas Segura, Paul Beaupre, Rae Lewis, Rosalie Bridge, Rue Fennell, Sophia Daniels, Talia Villalobos-Sharone, Tanner Kelting-Massaro, Theodore Balkema, Theodore Reilly, Will Ladley