By Brandi Makuski
When this reporter began to cover the 16 students — 15 ninth graders and one eighth grade student — enrolled in the elective World of Business class at Ben Franklin Jr. High in early March, expectations admittedly were low.
There were only a few students who seemed interested in participation of the class project, but overall few good things to say about the class’ progress for the first several weeks. Even teacher Art Greco was frustrated with the students’ blank expressions and ostensible disinterest.
The students’ seeming indifference was directed not so much in their semester project — raising $1,500 to benefit the Portage Co. K-9 Unit — but rather in the logistics of getting there. They were organizing a full-fledged, community-wide fundraiser: there were a hundred tasks to complete, and at first, few students had the confidence to participate, much less any idea how to begin.
This paper’s participation began with a timid phone call from ninth-grader MacKenzie Lavin , who asked the City Times to assist their project by publishing a community-wide poll to help the class choose which local charity to support. She was obviously nervous and later admitted she’d never made that kind of phone before, “the kind of call where you have to ask a business for something”, as she put it.
Some students in the class had a natural affinity for leadership. Lavin, along with classmates Kaitlyn Lee, Makaila Coulthurst and Elijah Piotrowski typically took the lead when it came to new ideas or taking on responsibilities.
But ninth-grader Nathan Kopchinski wanted no part of being included in the news coverage of the class.
“I’m not interested in talking to you right now,” Kopchinski said as he sat before his computer station in March. “I’m busy.”
Fellow ninth-grader Wayne Schweinfurth had a similar polite but suspicious response, as did many others. Student Devin Hintz, also bound for SPASH in the fall, seemed to be the joker of the group; he appeared goodhearted but had no problem speaking out of turn.
The informality of Art Greco’s glass seemed to allow for the opt-out; it was by design, Greco said, because that environment forced students to stand on their own feet and go out of their way to earn a grade. It’s a trait too many leave high school without, Greco said, and the prevalence of social media — which he said only promotes a total lack of interpersonal communication — is making the job of teaching harder all the time.
But something happened in early April. It’s not clear what; maybe students were receiving feedback on the City Times coverage, or maybe the lessons Greco had tried to teach them were sinking in after their myriad of mistakes. The class will fully admit their data-tracking wasn’t the best and they all agree they should have planned their fundraising event at Lower Whiting Park further in advance.
But those mistakes brought the class closer together. They’d learned to laugh at themselves a little bit, and they began to understand that small details make an event important.
Others had challenges to overcome and led the class from behind the public eye, either securing a donation or working on the group’s website or social media pages. Alex Strojny — a budding WIAA track runner — physically shook with nerves when he first began calling local media outlets to notify them of the group’s April 30 fundraising event. His voice was weak, his notes taken while on the phone practically illegible.
These students were subjected to the unique experience of having their words and actions published in the newspaper, and of seeing and hearing the public reaction to them. By late April, Strojny’s hands and voice no longer shook when he spoke to strangers; Kopchinski and Schweinfurth were relaxed and more outspoken; Hintz was more quizzical with his queries.
Every student in this class — Helena M. Ackerund, Makaila C. Coulthurst, Isaiah T. Golla, Devin S. Hintz, Nathan A. Kopchinski, MacKenzie A. Lavin, Kaitlyn D. Lee, Liam G. Lovett, Lukas R. Mocadlo, Elijah, J. Piotrowski, Wayne F. Schweinfurth, Taylor Spring, Alex M. Strojny, Lukas Wolosek, Eathan G. Zimmerman and Marissa M. Zorzin — played a part which best suited their abilities. They each embodied, in their own way, the very motto by which this district operates: “To prepare each student to be successful”.
Their original goal of raising $1,500 was left in the dust. These kids inspired the community to dig deep and wound up raising $7,000. It’s an accomplishment they should each include on a college application and future CV’s because it’s not something any other local 15-year-old can say they’ve achieved in such a manner.
There is one negative thing to say about this group’s journey, and that is the lack of support from the Stevens Point School Board. The board’s nine members, along with the district’s cabinet, were invited several weeks in advance to attend the class’ final presentation on their project; a presentation the class stressed over for weeks.
They fussed over ironing clothes and tying Windsor knots to look professional. They worried about sounding intelligent and knowledgeable when answering questions after their presentation. They lost sleep over hope they would be received well by those who run the district.
Only two board members — Barb Portzen and Jeff Ebel — and one member of the cabinet, Tom Owens from business services, attended. While other board members did attend the check presentation ceremony later in the day on Thursday, June 2, it was a ceremony attended by the entire school and local media.
It did nothing to communicate to the students that board members cared, or were even aware of their struggles and series of small victories along the way, all of which were explained in their planned presentation that morning.
Their absence did nothing to express to this class of 16 they represent everything about this district that is good. It’s a goodness that has been noticed by the business leaders of this community.
Despite this perceived snub, the 16 students of this class should know they have made their make on history.
This reporter, and all who work at the City Times, are hopeful that future similar classes, or other groups of enterprising young men and women in our community, read the accounts of the mold cast by this class. It has shown what can be accomplished with a spark of an idea — although it will be a hard act to follow.