SJHS seniors present semester-long community projects at exhibition

St. Joseph High School seniors Miles Elliott, Derek Burton and Ella Jones, present their senior project, a “Little Free Library” for Benton Township, during the 2015 Senior Service Project Exhibition Day on Wednesday at St. Joseph High School. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

St. Joseph High School seniors Miles Elliott, Derek Burton and Ella Jones, present their senior project, a “Little Free Library” for Benton Township, during the 2015 Senior Service Project Exhibition Day on Wednesday at St. Joseph High School. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – Derek Burton, Miles Elliott and Ella Jones stood before their peers and three judges as they took turns relaying what they had accomplished in the last five months.

The three St. Joseph High School seniors had built a “Little Free Library” and placed it along Euclid Avenue outside of Refreshing Fountains Church in Benton Township.

The 30-by-25-inch library hosts a small collection of books, which are free to the public for the taking and are to be returned when read.

“Our intent was to promote literacy in the community,” Burton said. “The Benton Township area doesn’t have a library, and they lack the access to read books.”

The semester-long effort was part of the Senior Project Exhibition on Wednesday morning at St. Joseph High School.

Tracy Becker, an English teacher and the exhibition’s coordinator, said she had her students create community projects when the state made a change to the curriculum that required students to take an additional year of English five years ago.

It wasn’t until this year the senior class took part in an exhibition, where they presented to a panel of judges.

“These are supposed to be community-oriented service projects,” Becker said. “(The presentations) add a little more teeth to the end result. It gives them a lot of real-world experience they would get in college and their jobs.”

Once students chose their project and knew what direction they would head in, each group was assigned a mentor and came up with a plan and implemented it. Students also completed a research paper on the topic and created a website that showcased their process and the project’s outcome.

They had to log 10 hours of service in some way and the project had to be something they created on their own.

The 74 students that took part in the exhibition were split up into six different rooms, where they spoke in front of judges who represented local businesses and organizations.

The real-world aspect is what separated the regular presentations they had done in the past from this year’s exhibition, Becker said.

The senior English teacher said she took pride in seeing her students succeed outside of the normal classroom setting.

“Ultimately, this project is a way for them to exercise all the skills that we’ve been teaching them throughout the years in a very real-world fashion,” Becker said. “They had to write emails, contact people, do an interview with their mentor and write a speech outline.”

Becker said this year has produced some of the better projects she’s seen since they added the assignment to the curriculum.

One project that went above and beyond included a three-week water safety class for elementary school students. The class offered free swimming lessons and showcased guest speakers from the Coast Guard on water safety.

St. Joseph seniors Jessica Foster, Hannah Grall and Lauren Magnuson came up with the idea to keep children safe on the Great Lakes.

“We wanted to get in touch with the kids, rather than just raising money and donating it to a place we didn’t know where it would go,” Grall said. “Since we live in a lakeside community, we wanted to do something that was relevant to our area.”

The trio said they noticed an immediate impact from the children who took the class.

After making fliers, researching their topic and organizing the class, Foster said she realized how different the project was.

“We had to think outside of the box in how the project would benefit the community,” she said. “At most high schools, the events are already set up for you to come and volunteer. This was something we had to organize on our own.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 28, 2015)

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