Pursuing passions in HVRHS senior projects

Gage Heebner described the restoration of a 1986 Jeep Cherokee as teacher Tom Krupa, left, and principal Ian Strever looked on. Seniors at HVRHS presented their Capstone projects last week.

Photo by Patrick L. Sullivan

Pursuing passions in HVRHS senior projects

FALLS VILLAGE — Gage Heebner lifted the hood of a 1986 Jeep Cherokee to reveal a fascinating automotive artifact.

He removed the lid of the air filter holder and took the filter out and held it up for people to see. Beneath the filter apparatus was another artifact from the olden days: the carburetor.

Heebner, from Kent, is a senior at Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS). His senior “Capstone” project is his multi-year restoration of the vehicle.

The Capstone projects are a requirement for graduation at HVRHS.

The seniors made their presentations Tuesday through Thursday, Jan. 9 to 11. The schedule was thrown off a bit by an early dismissal for bad weather on the Tuesday.

Yaritza Vega talked about her parents, who emigrated from Mexico in the early 1990s, and how they made their way in their new country. She did this in front of a large portrait she painted of her mother, Maria, pregnant and using a mop.

Both parents, Maria and Saul, were present, and after a bit of convincing, Maria stood in front of the portrait for a photo.

Yaritza Vega is headed to Middlebury College in the fall, where she plans to study languages and international studies.

Finn Cousins of Sharon decided to use his interest in physical fitness to design regimens for four of his fellow students, using the school’s weight and fitness room.

He said his goal was to get the students “comfortable with the machines and free weights.”

He said an added benefit was the fun and satisfaction involved. “It’s not just their mental health, it’s mine,” said Cousins.

Flynn Ryan of Lakeville approached the owner of a disused golf driving range in Millerton to ask if the owner wanted to collaborate on fixing the place up and reopening.

The owner wasn’t interested in collaborating but allowed Ryan to go ahead on his own, without paying any rent for the first year.

Ryan said he has now “resurrected” the place to the point where he hosted practice for the HVRHS golf team. He had help from family and friends, but put in a lot of hours by himself.

Ryan had to be resourceful and willing to do things the hard way, such as picking up golf balls in the rearmost of the two fields one at a time with a hand picker because the apparatus for picking up a lot of balls quickly couldn’t get to the back field.

He also had to deal with rain. “A lot of bad weather,” he said. “The mower and golf cart got stuck constantly.” He became an expert at using one machine to pull out another.

He expects to be ready to open in the spring, and to be able to pay rent.

Kayla Jacquier of North Canaan devised methods and strategies for promoting activities at local businesses. She used social media as well as posters and other traditional media.

She said she was nervous at first when approaching the business owners. But once she got the ball rolling, the nerves settled down.

Jonathan Minacci took on a difficult project — restoring an early 1970s John Deere tractor that was sitting in HVRHS ag-ed teacher Rene Boardman’s barn unused and neglected.

The first step was getting it from Sheffield to HVRHS.

The second step was taking it apart.

Minacci admitted some apprehension on his part, namely, once disassembled, would he be able to put it back together?

Tony Bascetta, an HVRHS alum who works at United Ag and Turf in North Canaan, helped out with technical advice. Stuck bolts were cut, gigantic pistons removed and examined, and gradually a restoration plan emerged.

The tractor won’t be going anywhere under its own power anytime soon. Another student has agreed to continue the project next year.

Minacci plans to attend Northwestern Connecticut Community College in the fall to study criminal justice.

Back to the Jeep. Heebner said he bought the car at age 14, before he had a driver’s license, and has been working on it ever since. The work has paid off. Heebner said the Cherokee is reliable and has never let him down.

“Except the time I ran out of gas.”

He plans to train to become a mechanic.

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