NORTH STONINGTON Born in Russia and adopted by an American family when she was 10 months old, Daniela Roy has not yet been back to her home country.
But this May, she celebrated her heritage with a senior project called “Russian Folk Dance and Cultural Exploration” in which she performed a folk dance in traditional Russian garb.
“It gave me the opportunity to really connect with my culture and my heritage,” Roy said. “That was really important for me.”
“It was amazing,” said mathematics teacher Allison Reyes. ”She had never danced at all before she took lessons.”
“It was months and months of preparation,” Roy said. Once she decided on her senior project in her junior year, she started taking dance lessons once a week at a local studio, and presented her final project and completed a dance performance on May 31.
Roy said her mentors for her senior project own a dance studio in Westerly called Sound of Dance, where she learned the traditional Russian folk dance.
“I am very, very grateful to them,” Roy said.
Reyes said every senior at Wheeler is required to do a senior project “as a culminating experience to showcase the skills that they have learned from sixth to twelfth grade.”
“Students can take any topic they want,” Reyes said, “so at the end of their junior year they start to think about it. Most students choose a hobby or future career they are thinking about ... so in their senior year they do a research paper, a portfolio and a presentation.”
“It’s a 15-minute presentation where we have community members come in, and all the teachers and students,” Reyes said. “It’s in a room with about 20 people and everyone goes on at once. It’s a half day. They have 5 or 6 teachers in the room, community members, and underclassmen.”
“So Daniela’s was about 10 minutes in the classroom explaining, and then she did the dance,” Reyes said.
“We have students doing all different topics,” Reyes said. “Learning how to surf, building things, refinishing, cars, and a lot of small and large animal vets.”
“It’s a great experience,” Reyes said. “It’s a lot of work but it allows them to have choice, and allows them to show off things that they’ve learned but with their own personal touch.”
“I’m not naturally a dancer,” Roy said. “I had not taken a single dance class until I started this project. And so to really see my dance ability come all together in this project was really a great moment for me. I’m very proud of the work I’ve put in.”
Roy said she is interested in pursuing other styles of dance in the future. She also said she has great memories of her senior year because she was captain of three sports teams at the high school.
“I would have to say being a captain for all three sports (basketball, volleyball and lacrosse), especially this year for lacrosse, it was really memorable for me,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to step up to the plate and really take on a lot more responsibility and really be a leader.”
“I love sports, so I like to play as much outside of school as possible,” Roy said. “Sports is really a big part of my life, for sure.”
Wheeler Principal Kristen St. Germain said in an email that she has known Roy for six years.
“Daniela has made the best of every opportunity and obstacle she has encountered over her high school career and done so with a smile on her face and a genuine appreciation for everyone who has helped her get where she is today,” St. Germain wrote. “I will miss her, but I know she will always return to the place that helped her along her journey.”
Roy will be attending Three Rivers Community College with hopes of becoming a medical assistant.