Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

June 5, 2013

Finding her niche and more

Renton forges connections at Marland, AHS

By Judy Wakefield

---- — Glance at Marina Renton’s resume and one might wonder what she hasn’t done in her four years at Andover High School.

The high honors student may be a bit quiet, but her resume speaks loudly of success. It goes like this:

Volunteer work at Atria Marland Place in Andover with residents coping with Alzheimer’s

Editor of the Warrior Weekly, the AHS newspaper

Art director of AHS Arts magazine

Pianist with six years of lessons behind her

Along the way, Renton successfully completed numerous Advanced Placement courses and earned two scholarships, which she’ll put to good use as she pursues an Ivy League education at Brown University in Providence come fall.

While Renton has made an impression academically, it’s her compassion for those less fortunate that has people talking.

“Marina is a remarkable person,” said Mary Mazza, the Engage Life director at Marland Place. “She is compassionate and dedicated. The residents look forward to her visits.”

It was nearly three years ago when Renton’s grandfather moved into Marland Place. She visited often and when he passed away in April 2011, she knew she wanted to do something for his caregivers.

“They were so compassionate, so caring. I wanted to say thank you,” Renton said.

She kept visiting residents, painting nails and playing games. Then, her visits became a bit more involved when she developed a successful storytelling method called TimeSlips that helps people with dementia better connect with staff, family and friends.

Here’s how it works: She puts arbitrary photographs, such as an image of a dog or a dancer, on a page and residents write stories about them. They open up as imaginations go wild, she said.

“It’s just great to watch them connect to the photograph,” said Renton, who put together a TimeSlips presentation that was submitted to the Alzheimer’s Foundation and won her a $500 scholarship.

Kim Bergey, Renton’s guidance counselor for four years at Andover High, said Renton did her Senior Exhibition on TimeSlips.

“It is one of the most interesting projects that I’ve ever seen a senior do,” Bergey said. “That project gets them (Marland residents) using their mind in a way they’re not used to. Instead of being frustrated that they can’t remember things, they say, ‘Let’s create our own memories.’”

Renton also garnered attention when she took the school’s newspaper online.

“Her junior year, she was promoted to editor-in-chief of Warrior Weekly and proposed the idea to push the paper to a web platform. And she made it happen,” Bergey said.

While Andover High is a big school, Renton said individual students have plenty of opportunity to succeed and excel.

“In my case, having a teacher as a true mentor made an enormous difference,” she said.

That teacher was freshman English instructor Scott Aubrey, who she said took an interest in her academic work, encouraging her to explore the extracurricular options available at Andover High and supporting her when she developed an interest in the school newspaper, for which he serves as faculty advisor.

“You just have to find your niche,” Renton said.

Or multiple niches.