Topics reflect wide variety of student interests, ingenuity
By Marcy Stamper
Local students will be able to play the Sousaphone, learn about what high school is like in an urban area in the Midwest, and improve their batting skills — all thanks to the legacy created by this year’s graduating seniors.
All seniors must do a culminating project that combines an in-depth research paper, a public presentation and community service, but the topics are a chance for the students to delve into a personal interest or passion.
This year, seniors tackled projects as wide-ranging as designing and building batting cages, doing a practicum in veterinary medicine, and retrofitting a 1982 computer to connect to the web.
Other students looked at health and social issues. Khristina Oestreich investigated access for Okanogan County teens to family-planning information. Lauren Fitzmaurice made a documentary comparing experiences at Liberty Bell High School and at a school in a segregated St. Louis suburb.
Does not compute
“I like hands-on stuff,” said Caleb Smith as he described his efforts to convert a rudimentary Commodore computer to a high-tech Internet whiz. Smith set out to answer the question, “Can I get a 1982 computer to compete with modern-day technology?”
“Not really,” he found out.
Smith’s research led him to the Commodore 64 from 1982, reportedly still the best-selling computer ever. He found a filthy relic for $40 and, working with computer consultant Paul Brown, outfitted it with a network card and a card reader.
The Commodore has no monitor, no mouse and no graphical user interface — just numbers and letters. “You have to do everything by hand using the keyboard,” said Smith. He rigged up a monitor that “usually worked, but sometimes displayed just a jagged mess of pixels,” he said.
Even his success in getting online had its limitations, since the Commodore can’t display pictures or sign into email. “I learned you can’t really make this more appealing to people — it’s really tedious,” said Smith.
Beyond his quixotic quest to drag the Commodore 35 years into the future, Smith said he’d learned a lot about computers and how much we rely on them for basic things.
“It’s a fun toy but, for serious work, it can’t do anything, whatsoever,” he concluded.
Teens and birth control
Oestreich serves on the youth leadership council at Room One, part of a countywide initiative to reduce teen pregnancy and underlying health disparities. After learning that Okanogan County has one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the state, Oestreich devised a project that would provide useful information to teens and health care providers about the information — and reception — teens can expect as they research birth control options.
Oestreich called health care providers throughout the county to schedule an appointment for a consultation. She scored everything from the initial phone contact to the atmosphere in the waiting room to interactions with nurses and doctors.
As she called clinics from Winthrop to Oroville, Oestreich encountered a range of vibes. Some receptionists were pleasant and friendly until they learned that she was 18. “If someone is younger, I’m afraid it could be even harder,” she said.
In one instance, a physician refused to see her, saying that providing information about birth control was against the doctor’s religion, said Oestreich.
Oestreich ultimately visited six clinics around the county. One doctor was rude and judgmental, and another advised her to practice abstinence. Okanogan Family Planning in Omak got top marks for being professional, welcoming and confidential, she said.
Oestreich shared her data with the Youth Leadership Council and managers of the clinics.
Zane Herrera played the tuba in junior high school but really wanted to play the Sousaphone. “It’s basically a tuba that stretches around the human body, so you wear it,” he said.
While the school district owns several Sousaphones, the brass ones were too far gone to be fixed. Herrera zeroed in on a lighter-weight Fiberglas model with working brass valves designed for a marching band. He disassembled, cleaned and sanded the instrument; epoxied cracks; and painted it a vibrant Mountain Lion green and yellow.
“It’s really cool because a kid in sixth grade will play it in the ’49er Days parade,” said Herrera earlier this month as he put the instrument back together. “My dream is coming true for him.”
Herrera expects he’ll get to play the instrument over the summer.
A swing at better batting
Derek Alumbaugh, a member of the Liberty Bell baseball team since the eighth grade, designed and built two new batting cages, relocating them to new turf-and-concrete pads that will be more durable.
Working with design-technology instructor Trent Whatley and baseball coach Michael Wilbur, Alumbaugh improved the functionality of the cages and welded pipe frames to build them.
Teams have been using the new cages since they were installed during spring break. They already make a big difference, said Alumbaugh.
With her involvement in the National Leadership Conference and friendship with a student from the group from St. Louis, Fitzmaurice orchestrated a student exchange. Liberty Bell freshman Colton Overbeck spent a week at University City High School near St. Louis, while St. Louis junior Maleak Johnson came here.
Fitzmaurice then made a half-hour documentary about the students’ experiences and their communities.
“I wanted to take two single places and compare,” said Fitzmaurice. She found lots to compare, from the relatively trivial — Maleak, although he is a soccer player, was affected by the comparatively thin air at Fitzmaurice’s house, which is 300 feet higher than the highest point in Missouri — to the more complex.
“Maleak had never been west of the Missouri River and didn’t know the West Coast,” said Fitzmaurice. “He loves it — everyone here was so nice and so friendly. Maleak said his idea about white people had completely changed after they left.”
University City High is predominantly African-American. “It’s pretty segregated,” both the school and the local housing, said Fitzmaurice. “Colton learned so much.”
All graduating seniors presented their projects to their classmates, families and community at a special evening two weeks ago.