Immersion Programs

Leo Clayton, Class of 2025

Get Happy, It’s Rewarding and Healthy!

Thanks to the 21st Century Fund I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica. I stayed at a local Education First (EF) school where I studied Spanish and pursued making a documentary about happiness. I interviewed students, teachers, and locals, asking various questions regarding both hedonism and eudaimonism, the theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being. I slowly developed an idea. Breathtaking landscapes, abundant wildlife and friendly people do produce contentment, yet one key trait was the most gratifying: people gain true happiness through making others happy. I learned a lifelong lesson that I had been trying to figure out for years. My empathy compelled me to help others because it made me feel better. For that I deeply appreciate the 21st Century Fund.

Jerome Maury, Class of 2024

To the members on the board of the 21st Century Fund, thank you for your immense generosity in helping me travel to Nice, France this summer. I cannot even begin to tell you about all the memories I made in this place I had literally, absolutely no idea about. Starting my journey to France, I distinctly remember telling myself, to take every moment as if it was your last and don’t look back.


Beginning my 2-week trip, I was placed in a home with native French host parents who did not speak a word of English. This was a huge surprise to me because not only did it create an intense amount of confusion coordinating plans, but from the get-go there was a disconnect from the host parents and the host “children”. However, slowly moving past this roadblock, I was able to appreciate the importance of why they chose to place us with fully French speaking citizens; it was to immerse us in French home culture and be forced to speak French even if it wasn’t perfect. Towards the end of my stay, Dominique, my host mother, and I would converse for as long as I could keep up before not having much else to say, which really was exciting and gratifying.


Throughout this experience I shared beautiful moments with friends that I may never see again, and I have learned in my time back in the U.S., that that is okay. Every day was a new wonder whether we wanted to go sailing on the Mediterranean coast, take the train to Monte Carlo, or go bike to Le Negresco, we could and we did. It was pure bliss.


Experiencing Bastille Day was very interesting because it gave me insight on how much the French are proud of their nation. Struggling to communicate with the French was something that I have never dealt with before and it forced me to speak and learn constantly. My 17th summer in Nice was one to remember and will always be something truly special and memorable and could not thank you enough for making that. You gave me the resources, and I ran with them. 

Summer Internship Programs

Ellie Wolgemuth, Class of 2025

Ellie Wolgemuth (top row on the right)

Thanks to the 21st Century Fund and UHVNHA, I was able to return to the Sharon Playhouse for a second summer of exciting theater productions. From rotating through the various departments that handle set construction, props, and run crew, my summer was much more widespread than the first. I had never worked in a shop before, so I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about how the technical components of a show are constructed. While working with props and set pieces, I had to carefully make sure that the audience would not be able to see any mistakes. I also served on the run crew for Peter and the Starcatcher. Along with moving components of the show in the wings and being prepared to fix any minor issues, I was tasked with climbing up to the light box mid-show to point a laser to represent Tinkerbell onstage. This was one of my favorite parts of the summer because it allowed me to have a role in the show without requiring me to be onstage. I spent a lot of time assisting the Props Manager with finding – and sometimes making from scratch – props for Frog and Toad, Oliver!, and Newsies, Jr. Some of these tasks included securing baskets of fake food so that they wouldn’t fall apart mid-show, sewing plastic leaves into blankets so that Frog and Toad could mimic a jumping pile of leaves, and going into props storage to locate various teacups, fans, musical instruments, and more.

In my time at the Playhouse, I was able to build strong relationships with the other apprentices. Many of the people working at the Playhouse this summer had just graduated college, which was wonderful because they were able to provide insight on finishing high school and starting college. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity from the 21st Century Fund and the UHVNHA to return to the Sharon Playhouse. The Playhouse has an extremely supportive and welcoming community – something that has been crucial to helping me learn how to problem solve and communicate. The skills I learned over the summer will undoubtedly transfer to my goal of becoming an artist in the future.

Kevin Wolgemuth, Ellie's Father

From A Dad’s Perspective:

It’s thirty minutes until the curtain rises, and I’m likely the only person in the room who is nervous. My teen, a sophomore at Housatonic Valley Regional High School, is interviewing the stage manager of a touring Broadway musical. From the handshake, the conversation is seamless, Ellie quickly leaving script and building a natural rhythm. As the two slip into theatrical jargon, I am awed.

A bit of an introvert, Ellie prefers observing to performing. Before joining HVRHS’s production of Into the Woods, she was clear: she wanted to be behind the scene and never in it. She would paint, move props and learn to run lights, as long as she could stay out of sight.

That first experience led to a wonderful opportunity. In late May 2023, Michael Baldwin, director of Into the Woods, emailed Ellie about a Sharon Playhouse internship sponsored by the Twenty-first Century Fund. Because this was the first intern partnership, it wasn’t certain what the position would involve, yet Michael was certain that Ellie would enjoy the behind-the-scenes engagement in youth and professional theater.

No one knew what was coming. During evening rides home, Ellie surprised my wife and me with each day’s activities. Mending and sewing costumes. Painting the stage, set pieces and even the stage floor. Cleaning the props room, then learning to organize props tables. Mic’ing performers. Recording performances. As the summer passed and the role expanded, there was no way to remain in the wings. Learning, then demonstrating, then helping to teach Victorian dance to students. Corralling twenty children during their time off-stage. Attending then contributing to creative team meetings. The crash entry into theater became really interesting when a cast member became suddenly ill and Ellie, our quiet observer, suddenly had lines to deliver during a performance.

Six months later, this is how I reminisce as Ellie continues her interview with the traveling production’s stage manage. Still quiet, reflective and observant, my teen is also poised, articulate and confident. The conversation she is leading is professional and purposeful, yet fluid and genuine. As a parent, I’m seeing both who she was and who she is becoming at the same moment, and I can’t help but be thankful. Not merely a summer nicety, the Twenty-First Century Fund’s internship offered an opportunity for my Housy student to step away from the familiar, explore the unknown and grow. Thank you for a truly remarkable experience.

Alex Wilbur, Class of 2024

Alex Wilbur – top row on the left

Working at the Sharon Playhouse as a general apprentice this past summer was really sort of a dream come true for me. I have been involved with the Playhouse for acting since 2019, and ever since then, I have slowly started to become involved in so many other aspects of theater. My first tech job was as the Assistant Stage Manager/Youth Counselor for a show in 2021, and I did that for two years as volunteer work. I learned so much from that experience, but also wanted to do more.

When I learned about the 21st Century Fund and Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area (UHVNHA) summer internship program through my friend who did it last year, I could not wait to be old enough to apply. Mentors of mine encouraged me to submit my application once it was available, and I was so happy about how quickly they were able to get back to me and give me all the details of my job.

I was afraid at first, but everyone at the Sharon Playhouse was so welcoming and willing to teach me. I learned how to use power tools to build small set pieces and props, how to change the gels on CYC lights, plus more general knowledge about costuming and props. My first project was to create giant cardboard crayons for Sharon Playhouse Stars, which I think was the perfect project to start my job on, because the props work, only got more complex. One of my favorite parts about the job was being able to pull and make props for real shows that were going on, whether they were mainstage or youth shows. I loved walking in with a prop I had made and getting so much gratitude from all the other wonderful people working there. The people were what made the experience so enjoyable. Everyone I worked with came from different backgrounds and worked in different aspects of theater, some even being performers, too. I got a lot of knowledge about college and having a real career in the theater, which gave me a lot of insight for my future and the decisions I will have to make during and after high school.

There was not a single day that went by when I wished I worked somewhere else. I am extremely grateful to everyone at the 21st Century Fund, UHVNHA, and Sharon Playhouse for making this experience possible for me.


Mia Claydon, Class of 2025

Troutbeck Summer Internship

Troutbeck has been a private estate, country inn, and tavern since the 1700s. It has been a place where all communities can come together and discuss current issues and political movements. The Symposium, in specific, has brought many students together to help discuss these issues (e.x, political and current issues). The goal is to keep people talking about issues going on in the world and issues that have been going on since. 

My role as an intern involved doing research to broaden the possible future places that can be involved with Troutbeck. I also did a lot of reach-out. One reach-out was to programs to explore drum-making experiences for future students to participate in, and another was to contact native american groups to see if they would like to volunteer as guest speakers at the symposium. I learned a lot about and updated spreadsheets. I also brainstormed and offered ideas to teachers to help improve student projects, learning, and how to submit ideas to Blake Myers.

My experience working for Troutbeck was very educational. I got to speak with the owner of Troutbeck who told us a story about a princess who is buried on Schaghticoke’s native land. I learned from Rohan Mokriski and a man from NYC Botanical Gardens about the history of drumming. It was very informative and fun to learn about stories and history that are right under our noses and we never knew it. In addition to the academic learning experience, I also took away a lot socially. Everyone I talked to and worked alongside was very friendly and very informative. I loved the chances I got to do things like, talking with the owner and being able to hear the vision she has for Troutbeck.

I truly appreciate the experience working with Troutbeck, especially in working alongside Black Myers and Rhoan Mokriski. They are two very intelligent people and I couldn’t think of two better people to go to if I’m ever in the position of being curious or wanting to learn more. Another big support was Peter Vermilyea. He is a phenomenal history teacher and amazing mentor to work and talk with. So, I completely give my thanks to them and the 21st Century Fund for HVRHS/Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area for making this possible.

HVRHS Faculty

Rene Boardman, HVRHS Agriscience Instructor

September 15, 2023

 Thank you to the 21st Century Fund for giving me the opportunity to attend the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) Institute in Lowville, NY from July 31-August 8, 2023. I had a fantastic time learning new methods to employ in my Farm to Table courses, and meeting Agriscience teachers from across the country. This training will allow me to implement an incredibly science-based, hands-on Food Science and Safety curriculum into our Farm to Table courses. Sample lessons we participated in included jelly-making, pH testing in relation to preservation, poultry processing, egg-grading using artificial intelligence, and more.

 The CASE training allowed me to earn my ServSafe Food Handler Certification, which is incredibly valuable to anyone in the food industry. It means, the students who take my Farm to Table class can earn their ServSafe certifications. The CASE curriculum is nationally recognized and is cross walked between Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS); Common Core; and Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (AFNR) standards which makes this curriculum incredibly valuable. I will have lifetime access to the curriculum and updates made to it. I am excited to share all that I’ve learned with the students and my colleagues!

 While at the conference, we also toured agri-businesses such as the Tug Hill Estate Vineyard and the locally renowned Miller’s Meat Market. The connections I made with other agriscience teachers will last a lifetime, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to grow as an educator at this conference. Thank you again for your contribution toward my conference expenses.


Rene Boardman,  HVRHS Agriscience Instructor

Michael Ellington, Robotics Mentor and HVRHS Network Administrator

Mentoring Team 716 has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. It has allowed me to assist students in acquiring new skills, honing their talents, and pursuing their dreams. I am consistently impressed by the capabilities our students exhibit when faced with challenges. The ability to design, prototype, and construct a 120-pound robot in just six weeks, then compete with other teams who have done the same, is truly remarkable.

Observing our students step onto the playing field for the first time, their eyes reflecting a mix of fear and awe, brings a smile to my face. I know that after a match or two, that initial trepidation transforms into the confident determination of a tiger ready to compete.

So, what do students gain from the robotics program? The FIRST Inspires Robotics program has a profound impact on students’ lives in various ways:

  • STEM skills: FIRST Robotics exposes students to a wide range of STEM concepts and skills, including engineering, physics, and computer science.
  • Teamwork and leadership: It’s a team sport, teaching students how to collaborate and lead effectively.
  • Confidence and self-esteem: Success in FIRST Robotics boosts students’ confidence and self-esteem, demonstrating their potential for greatness.
  • Career inspiration: Many FIRST Robotics alumni pursue STEM careers, inspired by their experiences.

FIRST Robotics also shapes students’ lives in other significant ways:

  • Friendships and community: Teams consist of students from diverse backgrounds who often form lifelong friendships.
  • Discovering passions: Exposure to various STEM activities helps students find their passions and interests.
  • Problem-solving skills: Real-world challenges in FIRST Robotics develop critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
  • Self-confidence: As students learn and succeed, their self-confidence grows.

As a parent of a robotics student, I can attest to the incredible impact of the FIRST Robotics program:

My son joined the program in 8th grade and continued through high school, eventually becoming the lead programmer for the team.

The skills he acquired were matched by the self-confidence he developed. This confidence and skills were demonstrated quite clearly when he designed an alert system for the high school, which he built, programmed, and installed. The cost was just $3,500, compared to over $10,000 for a commercial system, and it remains in use today.

Because of this program he received a scholarship to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and recently completed an internship with Aurora Aerospace and DARPA on the X-65 CRANE experimental aircraft. I firmly believe this would not have been possible without the robotics program.

Thank you to the 21st Century Fund for HVRHS for its constant and loyal support throughout the years.

And More to Come

Questions or Comments?

Contact us at

21st Century Fund for HVRHS

PO Box 132, Falls Village, CT 06031

The 21st Century Fund is an independent 501(C)3. We receive no state or federal funding.

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