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Students Cap K-12 Career by Helping Others

The project started with a question: How can we help sick children in the hospital? It led to a surprising answer: ChapStick.

Four Lowell High School seniors raised $100 from fellow students to buy lip balm for patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The soothing substance is rubbed on children’s anesthesia masks to make them feel more at ease as they are sedated. They even get to pick their favorite fruit flavors.

As she prepared to deliver the ChapStick along with her classmates, Braylin Conner said the service learning project beats “just sitting in a classroom and not getting the full experience.”

Other Ways Students Served

  • Put on a “hunger banquet” to raise awareness
  • Helped serve meals at God’s Kitchen
  • Established a pen-pal program between Lowell and students in Africa
  • Volunteered at a high-poverty elementary school
  • Built benches for young students at the Wittenbach/Wege Environmental Center

“Actually doing something, I feel like I’m more involved and it’s easier to learn that way,” said Braylin, who wants to become a nurse.

It was also empowering to think up the project entirely on their own, after going to the hospital and asking how they could help, said Ethan Pearson, who teamed up with Braylin, Baileigh Ford and Dylan Hamilton.

“I never had a class that challenged me in that way before,” Ethan added. “I felt like it was great for us and everyone that benefits from it.”

Theirs was one of several service projects undertaken by students in Senior Capstone, a course where Lowell seniors can demonstrate their years of K-12 learning while helping the community. Other students helped at an animal rescue shelter and a Special Olympics skiing event, among other projects.

“I believe that people who do service benefit just as much as those who are on the receiving end,” said their teacher, Kim Keglovitz. “My students prove this time and time again when they complete their projects. They capture an incredibly good feeling from the work they do.”

Parker Reed, left, and Mackenzie Stiles tended goats and other rescued animals at the Lowell Farm & Wildlife Center
Parker Reed, left, and Mackenzie Stiles tended goats and other rescued animals at the Lowell Farm & Wildlife Center

Caring for Animals, Helping Special Skiers

Besides conceiving and carrying out their projects, students must also write papers and present a multi-media report to class members, who review their presentation. Parker Reed, Kelliann Jacobs and Mackenzie Stiles told of their three days working at the Lowell Farm & Wildlife Center, a nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates more than 2,000 injured and abandoned animals a year.

The students were surprised to learn such a place existed and that such a wide variety of animals could be found in West Michigan. Parker told of pot-bellied pigs that had been found wandering around Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids.

“We saw more of what the community actually is, instead of just hearing about it,” Parker said. Added Kelliann Jacobs, “I’m kind of an animal-rights activist, so it was nice to see someone put their entire life into animals.”

Five classmates trekked far north to Bellaire, where they helped run the cross-country ski events in the Special Olympics at Schuss Mountain. It was a natural interest for the five, all snowboarders. But in setting up flags, timing races and helping racers with their gear, they learned much about what a great gift winter sports can be.

Hauling hay was just one of many chores Parker Reed and two classmates performed at the Lowell Farm & Wildlife Center
Hauling hay was just one of many chores Parker Reed and two classmates performed at the Lowell Farm & Wildlife Center

“It was a good eye-opening experience, helping these kids,” said Ben Kohtz, whose father, Ken, oversees event volunteers. “It wouldn’t be such a big thing for us, but it’s the Olympics for them.”

Also helping out at the four-day event were Zach Diamond, Chase Wilterdink, Tayler Hoevenaar and Mitch Clay. They agreed that the long spells of standing in sub-zero temperatures, and the patience required to help skiers, were well worth what they learned.

“It really struck me how positive these people were,” Mitch said. Added Chase, “I don’t think any of them ever stopped smiling.” 

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Senior Capstone class

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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