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Capstones: homelessness, school improvements, animal shelters

Kenowa Hills — Senior Mandee Cassis enjoys playing hockey, spending time outdoors and finding new ways to contribute to her community.

When tasked for an English 12 capstone project to identify a need or issue at her high school or surrounding areas and brainstorm potential solutions, Mandee created a plan for the “Lilycove Project.”

“There is not enough housing for the homeless in the community,” she said during her final presentation. “The benefits (of Lilycove Project) would be to build a community where people would work, get fed, clean and sober and gain skills to rejoin the workforce and society.” 

Senior Mandee Cassis explains her proposed timeline for a project to help homelessness in her community

Mandee explained how her project involved purchasing local land to build housing and provide jobs for people experiencing homelessness. 

Based on her research, she highlighted three main needs: employment, therapy and sobriety. 

“People need physical skills and mental preparation to transition out of homelessness, but it’s not black and white,” Mandee said. “People experience homelessness for a lot of reasons.” 

The idea for her project came from a lifelong desire to live in a house in the woods, she said. 

“I’ve always loved the idea of living off the land and I felt like … this community could encourage participants to progress and transition out of homelessness.”

Professionally Planning Projects 

To wrap up the spring semester, English teacher Kristy McPherson-Leitz leads her seniors every year in a capstone project. Students are required to dive deep into the origins and impacts of the issues they choose. 

After devising potential solutions, they consider costs, how to obtain funds needed and an approximate timeline for achieving their goal.

Students also set up meetings with district administration and local leaders to get feedback on their proposed solutions. This year, they presented their final slideshows to their classmates, building and district staff, board members, local elected officials and professional community members, she said. 

“Their presentations were amazing,” McPherson-Leitz said. “The students are very passionate about their chosen topics, and in their research, they learn more about how decisions are made at the district and local level.”

McPherson-Leitz’s course is designed to prepare seniors for the rigors of college-level classes.  

Mandee prepared for her final presentation by first presenting to friends, she said. “They threw out questions they had, so I could practice answering.” 

After each student or group delivered their presentation, their teacher, classmates and guests inquired more about their findings and how they envision their ideas coming to fruition. 

Senior Mallory Scheidel claimed the high school’s courtyard needed some tender loving care, and presented on how staff and students could facilitate changes.

Mallory’s suggestions included adding more plants and flowers, cleaning the area for more “structured outdoor learning” and keeping it safe for students and the family of ducks that return every spring. 

Senior Zak Uzarski presents on his plan to expand Kenowa Hills High School’s library by adding more books and a second floor

Senior Zak Uzarski proposed expanding the high school library by adding a second floor and filling new and existing shelves with more books. 

“The high school library hasn’t been renovated since the school first opened in 1995, according to (Superintendent) Jerry Hopkins,” he said.

Zak also conducted a student survey, and said a common response was that they enjoy reading but think there is too little variety of books. 

Other issues identified by McPherson-Leitz’s students were animal shelter overflow, high school start times, lack of recognition for less-popular sports and parking lot traffic.

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
‘Creating a feeling of compassion & care’
Supportive friends, family & teachers made the difference

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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