CHS Student Gets Perfect Score on English Portfolio

Holding up her top-scoring portfolio titled "Faith and Doubt: What rules the human mind?" is Hannah Gadway, an 8th grader at Calais High School. Gadway's portfolio earned a perfect score, being only one of three portfolios to have ever done so in Rob Moholland's English class. (Submitted photo).

By Lura Jackson

 When we, as individuals, discover what makes us passionate, it can be a reward that stays with us throughout our lifetimes. If we are young when we discover our passions, it is sometimes up to the adults around us to encourage and foster the growth of those interests. At Calais High School recently, student and teacher worked in tandem to fulfill their roles to the best of their ability – culminating in the generation of a project portfolio by Hannah Gadway that earned a rare perfect score in Rob Moholland’s English class.

Every year, Moholland teaches English to 36 8th graders, requiring at the end of the year that the students participate in an independent study project. This year, Moholland asked his students to do “a comparison between music and poetry and how they relate in terms of themes.” The students were asked to choose two themes based on feelings, emotions, or ideals, and then to select two songs per decade beginning in the 1950s and continuing to the modern era that fit those themes. Students then selected poems that they identified as having similar themes and compared them to the songs. 

“Each of these projects, anybody can do,” Moholland explained, “but if students have the desire and the ability they can take it as far as they want.” Students were given 3-4 weeks to complete the projects, which are worth 1,000 points toward their grade, or the equivalent of ten homework assignments.

When 8th grader Hannah Gadway of Calais found out about the project, she was thrilled. “I was very excited,” she recalls. Gadway says she has become deeply interested in music in recent years. “I don’t just like catchy tunes – though there are always good catchy tunes. I really like the lyrics when the writer gives a lot of thought to what they’re writing. I like music where the singer writes the lyrics because then you know its genuine.” Gadway explained that she feels that music can help people in a lot of different ways because the lyrics can profoundly affect the listener.

Gadway’s interest in poetry has been expanding since the beginning of the year. “I’ve seen that music basically is poetry. Poetry is the same, it’s just not to a tune. It can say a lot. It’s more than words; it’s feelings and emotions and all the things that a writer thinks.”

For her project, Gadway picked the themes of faith and doubt. Many of her favorite bands featured songs about faith and doubt already, so the two seemed like a natural choice. “Not just from the religious standpoint, but also there’s a lot of different kinds of faith and doubt in love and relationships and in general life,” she explained. 

Her vintage song selections ranged from “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” by Elvis to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam. Her favorite band, which she credits as opening the door to broader musical horizons for her, is 21 Pilots. 

Gadway’s poetry selections were varied, with notable featured poets E.E. Cummings and Edgar Allen Poe. Gadway asserted that E.E. Cummings is her favorite poet, citing “Me up at does” as her favorite poem. “I like the way he uses punctuation – it was really innovative for his time,” she said. In general, the project has increased her appreciation for poetry and she said she will be seeking it out more now.

Gadway collected her chosen songs and poems into a 36-page portfolio adorned with illustrations – half of which she made herself – and images collected from the internet that complemented the themes. She estimates spending 24 hours to compile the project from beginning to end.

Gadway’s passion for music and astute lyrics clearly came through in her effort. For the third time in his eleven years of teaching, Moholland awarded a student with a perfect score on their portfolio. Gadway received top marks in every category: content, grammar, spelling, theme, effort, and organization.

Perhaps the best testament to the quality of the portfolio was Moholland’s own. “I read it once, then I read it again – not because I had to, but because I wanted to.”

In the future, Gadway plans to take creative writing courses and to expand her growing skill with conveying her personal voice in the form of the written word. She aims to complete a college degree in English after graduating from high school. In the meantime, she will find her pleasure in school wherever she can get it. “It makes school fun when you get to do things you’re interested in.”