News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 2, 2023
Early graduate ready to spread his wings
Before leaving, Alvelo helped “older” seniors connect

Kai Alvelo

Kai Alvelo graduated early from Deer Isle-Stonington High School and will ship out for the Air Force on February 7.

Photo courtesy of Kai Alvelo

by Jack Beaudoin

Kai Alvelo, who graduated a semester early—in January—from Deer Isle-Stonington High School, will board an airplane for the first time in his life in early February. He’s flying to Dallas, Texas, to report for basic training with the Air Force.

Alvelo was granted an early graduation by the CSD 13 School Board at its December 2022 meeting. It’s a rare but not unprecedented request, board chair Jane Osborne said, noting that there have been “one or two” similar petitions during her seven-year tenure.

“Students have to have met all the requirements for graduation,” Osborne explained. “We also speak with the principal, guidance counselor and the student’s parents. If not all are supportive, we’d have to take an even closer look at the situation.”

In Alvelo’s case, not only did his parents back his decision—they were the first to suggest it.

“My parents brought up the possibility even before we moved here,” said Alvelo, whose father, Vince Alvelo, is a first-year principal at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, and mother, Traci Alvelo, is the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Coordinator in the school system. “They told that if I was going to do it, I’d have to be very diligent about getting all my work done—and I suppose I’ve been successful at it.”

Alvelo says he’s always taken academics very seriously and has worked hard to achieve top grades. Growing up as one of four sons to a pair of educator parents, Alvelo wouldn’t describe himself as competitive, but said he always felt “motivated” to do well. Excelling in his classes was one way he chose to deal with frequent moves during his school career, with stops in Chatham, Va., Lexington, Mass., Wolfesboro, N.H., and Dexter, Maine, before landing on Deer Isle.

Given the academic record he’s compiled, Alvelo admits he’s sometimes asked why he chose to join the armed forces instead of heading straight to a college or university.

“I see a lot of benefits from joining the Air Force now,” he said, emphasizing the last word of that sentence. “I think this is a great opportunity for me. College will be practically free for me when I come out, and in the meantime, I’ll be learning a lot about technology.”

In fact, the ability to join the Air Force as a systems operation apprentice, where he’ll be specializing in cybersecurity, was a key factor in his decision.

“I really love technology,” he said. “It was one of the main drivers for choosing the Air Force…And I have no intention of learning to fly.”

One senior helping other “seniors”

Meeting one of his last requirements, Alvelo presented his Senior Exhibition before a review panel on January 6. The exhibition is a rite of passage through which all DISHS seniors must move before they’re awarded a diploma. The project on which Alvelo’s exhibition was based answered the question: “How can I initiate an activity and support senior citizens who live on Deer Isle?”

Alvelo became aware of the impacts of social isolation on the elderly, thanks to an interest in psychology. It has been linked to a number of complications and problems, including increased healthcare costs, mental and physical health declines, cognitive decline and reduced quality of life, he observed.

Alvelo was focused on learning what a person could do to address the problem locally. His advisor, Chelsea Brown, introduced him to the Healthy Island Project and its “Salt Air Seniors” program, led by Barrett Gray. According to Gray, the point of the program is to bring the island’s older residents together to fight isolation and loneliness.

Unfortunately, when COVID-19 struck, most of the program’s activities—game nights at Deer Run, excursions to Isle au Haut and picnic lunches, to name a few—had to be postponed. Even though Gray and other volunteers continued to deliver meals to seniors, the number of participants “really dwindled” after March of 2020, the month the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Gray credits Alvelo with helping to bring back in-person activities in the fall of 2022. After researching the issue and exploring the ways in which Salt Air Seniors had combated social isolation previously, Alvelo decided to organize an outing for seniors to attend a production of Willy Wonka at the Reach Performing Arts Center.

While Alvelo downplays his role, Gray highlighted the logistical effort required to pull it off. Alvelo had to coordinate with the Reach’s director, John Lincoln, to ensure that there was adequate seating for seniors, including some who might experience physical challenges. He arranged for seating close to the stage for seniors with hearing impairments. He even coordinated with the school to provide transportation if it were needed.

“I’ve done many of these, and it takes a lot of work,” Gray said. “For a senior in high school, he did a phenomenal job. There wasn’t a single thing he missed.”

“They had a good time,” Alvelo said, fondly remembering the event. “They laughed and enjoyed themselves, and it made me smile because that’s what I set out to do.”