Student creates masterful work of art for her Senior Project
LAHAINA – “It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a child with autism to raise the consciousness of the village,” observed Elaine Hall (a.k.a. Coach E), renowned educator, writer and children’s acting coach for film and TV.
“My name is Brisa Yepez Gomez. I am autistic. I also like art. My favorite is drawings, and I’ve been doing comics and cartoon animation,” she noted.
Brisa is 17 going on 18, a student at Lahainaluna High School (LHS) and a bright multi-talent. She recently presented her Senior Project in front of a panel of community members, teachers, administrators and other staff members, and now it’s on display on campus.
A senior project is a capstone experience, with the student selecting a topic resulting in a formal presentation demonstrating what has been learned; it is an end-of-school journey, incorporating disciplines across the curriculum.
It is also a graduation requirement.
It’s not easy, but the student is not alone on this path; they have chosen mentors sharing this final high school crossing.
In Brisa’s case, there were many mentors – Kristina Mekdeci, LHS art teacher; Annie Franzenburg, Brisa’s Educational Associate; Ryan Granillo, LHS English teacher; Nancy Young, retired LHS media teacher and “special coach” to Brisa; Mom Martha Yepez; and Uncle Juan Gomez of Penne Pasta Cafe.
Since she was four years old, through art, Brisa has connected to the world; art is who she is, her soul communication. She is a mixed media, multi-talent.
“Art relaxes me,” Brisa advised the Lahaina News. “Let’s go of all my stress from reality.”
She carries a sketchbook around with her. It is filled with colorful and sometimes fanciful visions, images, characters, super heroes, poems, stories and concepts, some of them later animated on her iPad, YouTube channel and Facebook page (Brisa’s Creations).
“She likes to bring herself into her stories. She is really good at expressing herself,” Mekdeci, her art teacher and formal mentor, added.
Her EA, Franzenburg, is one of her staunchest advocates: “I don’t think that there’s anytime that I’ve heard Brisa say, ‘Oh no. I can’t do that.’ She is very receptive, very open, very positive.”
So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that the topic for her Senior Project was art.
“I think art was chosen (as the senior project),” Franzenburg added, “because she is very good at it, and everyone knows that. It’s a form that she can really express her true self with great ease. She doesn’t have to try too hard; it’s just a natural fluid way for her to produce this creative work. She’s really good at it.”
“At first my senior project was going to be animating, but then Miss Young came in with a whale and suggested I should paint the whale,” Brisa said.
The breaching whale mold was a leftover from the very successful 2002 Soroptimist International of West Maui fundraiser; it was headed to the landfill when Young intercepted.
The mold was painted in the popular above and below ocean style. The body and tail are collaged with all manner of marine life – corals, reef fish, octopus, ocean bubbles and squid.
The colors on the head of the whale are reminiscent of a luminescent Lahaina sunset.
On the academic side of the project, Granillo connected with Brisa. “The students had to write a four-page argumentative research paper, which Brisa did,” along with a power point and talk before judges.
The theme was the Spirit of Lahaina, Mekdeci speculated, “expressing what makes it unique here, the ecosystem and the marine life in our waters. She tirelessly wrote about them,” for the presentation.
Granillo had a different, but equally present, angle: “I believe her focus on the paper was the argument that art can have a positive impact and influence on a person’s life, which fit in with her project.”
In any case, Brisa said, “I am actually glad that I did the whale. Because it’s been an honor to work on it all three months.”
Mekdeci enjoyed mentoring Brisa. “She always has a passion for learning about new things. I mean even with the fish she painted and the research, she appreciates the learning experience; she’s got that passion.”
Brisa is a proud and confident young woman.
After her presentation, she said, “I did great.”
Young was enthusiastic as well. “That’s absolutely true. I was there. She wowed all of the viewers, all of the community.”
Granillo was wholehearted in his agreement: “I think Brisa did a fantastic and amazing job with a talent that is obviously very important to her. It does make her feel at peace, and you can tell. She draws in my class all the time. It calms her, and it soothes her. Plus, she has left the school with an indelible art piece that can be here for a long, long time.”
Her passion goes beyond art, Young advised. “To me, she’s just a bright spot on campus. She says hello to the teachers going by. It is always a bright, happy, hello. Time and again, she’s made my day.”
When asked why she loves her alma mater, she answered unequivocally, “my teachers, and the time I spend with them. They support me in every unique way.”
Her EA, however, chimed in quickly, “There’s not only the support from the teachers, but also the students really support her. It’s very unique, I think, for the high school level.”
And that’s the Spirit of Lahaina.
“I love Hawaii,” Brisa added matter-of-fact, like there was no doubt. “I was born here.”