When Woodward-Granger senior shortstop Jake Smiley thought the annual baseball camp for younger players ought to draw more than a few kids, what did he do? Daydream? He jumped at the chance to create a major event with his coach, Eric Evans, as his mentor.
When Evan Bodermann learned that football coach George Ashman wanted a second blocking sled for player conditioning, what did he do? He built one. He measured. He copied. And under supervision, he welded the sled together. Nobody, included his parents, knew that he wanted to learn to weld.
When Savannah Carroll and Katelyn Major thought the four High School locker rooms needed a face lift, did they call maintenance? They did not. The girls painted the floors and had to consult the paint department at Home Depot to get the right colors. Then they held fundraisers to earn the money. They stripped the old paint off; acid washed the concrete, repainted, and sealed the new paint.
What is going on here?
Welcome to the world of Woodward-Granger High School’s senior projects. In a nutshell, the concept, as outlined on the district website, states “in your time here in the school system you’ve been given the “gift of education and before you graduate you both “give back to the people that have helped provide for your success and prove yourself as ”productive members” of the community.
For Coach Ashman, the underlying goal is the successful completion of a project provides a sense of accomplishment. For example, he says, a former student may not remember her algebra grade years later, but she’ll almost certainly remember her project and the sense of accomplishment. As an example, he points to Justin Barbour’s effort to spruce up the flagpole and welcome area off the 141 exit. At first, says Ashman, Barbour was marginally enthusiastic about the project but when it was completed, “he really felt good about himself and what he had accomplished.”
There is no shortage of exciting projects. Examples include:
• Alyssa Jack putting on a softball clinic to raise money for the team.
• Ashton Grover-Faust organizing a beauty pageant for charity.
• Alaina Harp’s cheer clinic raising money for the cheer squad to go to camp.
• Brianan Cooper completing a week-long cooking class with middle school students.
• Katelyn Sprot creating a dog park for the city of Woodward.
W-Gs senior projects are not just about physical efforts. “The students are required to write a paper on their project and defend their efforts before a faculty and staff panel. It’s just like a defense of a dissertation,” says Linda Carroll, director of teaching and learning. Carroll refers to doctoral candidates having to defend their research.
Since local education always finds critics, not every parent is a fan. Some parents contend that the grading process may be too subjective.
“A kid who builds a $50 wooden bench and plops it in the park gets a grade equal to the kid who spends weeks organizing a community event that raises thousands of dollars to benefit their school,” says Cheree Harp.
However, Jeanette Bodermann, junior class sponsor and school activist, thinks otherwise. “This is what I told a mother of an academic standout. ‘We would expect a certain level of work from a Valedictorian, but if ‘Joe Schmoe’ is able to do a certain level of work, then let him be successful and feel a sense of accomplishment at the level at which he can perform. Why would you compare your Valedictorian to any other child?’”
Likewise, she dismisses the notion that community involvement shouldn’t be forced on kids. “This is exactly why these projects are necessary, because some children do not see a good example of community involvement, commitment, and leadership from their parents. Why not teach them how it takes volunteering to make a good community?”
That said, what does it take to make a great project? Jake Smiley – who is, in fact, valedictorian – said himself and Evans found a company that was looking to sponsor a baseball camp in the metro area and figured it would be a great opportunity to grow the program at Woodward-Granger.
“When our instructors created this senior project, one of their main goals was to teach kids to get out of their comfort zone and provide themselves with some type of learning stretch,” Smiley said. “My project truly provided me with all those experiences. This project gave me a chance to see the game from a completely different perspective, one that I will be able to enjoy even after my playing career is over in just a few short months.”
Smiley also said the camp will serve as a great tool for young camp-goers.
“The kids will gain a lot from the camp as the instructors and I really hone in all those fundamental skills before everyone’s season gets into full swing,” Smiley said. “I came into the project knowing that it could be fun and could help the kids, but I didn’t notice all the great side effects that go along with it. I am grateful to have been to have been given this chance to learn skills of leadership and responsibility.”
But coaches are accorded the last word, and Smiley’s coach says the baseball player is one of a kind.
“Jake was a freshman (during) my first year here at Woodward-Granger and is a very dedicated, driven, and determined individual,” Evans said. “I would love to surround myself with nine or 10 Jake Smiley’s on the baseball field and off of it. Jake is a kid that you can count on and lean on when times are tough.”