- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Elias Mitchell brought new meaning to the idea of taking the classroom outside. The Harmony School senior spent 50 days living in the wilderness at the edge of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest this year.

“You constantly have to think ahead,” he said.

Mitchell used a bow and traps he made himself to catch animals such as raccoons and opossums. He used every part of the animal for something, whether it was food or clothing in the form of a coonskin cap.

The experience is something he had been thinking about for two years, he said, and it seemed perfect for his Harmony School senior project.

From studying Spanish in Spain to documenting the health of a local waterway, the class of 2016 explored their personal interests and learned about themselves in unique ways.

Autumn Siney said it’s important for seniors to pick topics they’re passionate about for their senior projects. The projects will be difficult to complete if students just choose topics that will look good on their resumes, she said.

Siney, who has been interested in acrobatics since she saw the Bloomington High Flyers when she was about 4 years old, spent her last semester at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Vermont. She worked on her skills in aerial fabric, trapeze, lyra, contortion and tight-wire walking, as well as working toward her teacher’s certification.

Siney also taught aerial silks and lyra for Aerialogy at the Twin Lakes Recreational Center in Bloomington. Her final goal was to become adept at a multitude of circus performance arts and narrow down her personal interests in this area.

Her essential questions were: “In what ways can one use circus arts as a stream of income, and out of the many options, can one truly use circus arts to create a self-sustaining living wage in the modern day and in how many different ways? Are circus arts something that I am interested in pursuing as a lifestyle and career choice, and if so, why and in what way?”

The most difficult part of the project was finding the stamina to keep up with the training. As an aerial skills instructor, Siney was used to working in short intervals, but at the center for circus arts, she practiced her craft from morning until night every day.

She knew making a career out of circus arts would be a long shot before she went to Vermont, but her experience at the center helped her rule that out completely. Siney said she’ll keep the circus in her life in some way, but making the changes to her body and lifestyle that would be necessary to join an entertainment company such as Cirque du Soleil isn’t something she’s willing to do.

In the fall, Siney said, she will attend Indiana University. She hasn’t decided on a major, but is leaning toward art education.

Mitchell began his project on the first day of winter break, when he took up residence in a shelter of his own making, which he built on private land at the edge of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. He spent 50 days there in the winter, hunting and trapping, using a bow, arrows and traps he made himself.

His essential question was: “What are the challenges involved in living without the modern conveniences and comforts of today’s average American lifestyle? What lessons are to be learned by going back to basics?” After graduation, Mitchell plans to move to the state of Washington, where he will take classes at Alderleaf Wilderness College and hopes to one day become a national park ranger.

Mitchell hopes the class of 2017 will use their senior projects as an opportunity for self exploration.

“Keep focused,” he said. “Think about all your goals and what you want to find out about yourself, your passions and your dreams, and pursue it.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, http://bit.ly/1qMlodh

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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