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It’s 9 a.m. Monday and North Oldham High School senior Angela Russo hasn’t made it to school yet. She’s driving around the neighborhood with her friend, Siera Maxwell. Russo’s mother, Tina, said she couldn’t be happier about the situation.“I really like that they’re doing it,” she said. Russo and Maxwell don’t have a case of senioritis. Instead of the standard options of working as a teacher’s aide, co-oping or devising schemes to cut class, they are a group of seniors participating in a class known as Senior Project. While Russo and Maxwell collect clothes for impoverished people, other classmates are raising money for youth to attend church camps, organizing rock climbing clubs throughout Goshen, working on architectural designs for daycare centers and a wide array of other projects. Ashley Nowotny and Hannah Oliver are fighting voter apathy within their school. Both were raised in politically aware families. This presidential election is one the pair says they have looked forward to their entire lives – it is the first one they are able to vote in. But when they look around their school, they don’t see the same excitement. “People know exactly what’s going on with Paris Hilton, but don’t know who’s running for president,” Oliver said. They are working to fight apathy with a bulletin board in the hallway displaying political news and posting debate clips on the video announcements.
Nowotny said their message to other students is, “You have to live here, you might as well have a say about what’s going on.”
They helped a few students register to vote in November, but want to see more.
They are planning a mock election before Kentucky’s primaries May 20, and are working on ideas to prompt students to take it more seriously than past attempts at mock elections.
The other projects range wildly in scope, depending on the students’ personal interests.
Mike Sowell is working with a University of Louisville professor and a blacksmith for a project comparing Celtic culture to modern-day America.
He has found that both engage in hero worship, as the myth of a single man holding off an entire army resonate with each culture.
In Celtic culture, he found that individualism to be tempered with a concern for the community at large.
He has also been intrigued by the blending of the mysterious and practical in Celtic life. They were not only responsible for Stonehenge, but such useful items as chain mail and bars of soap, he said.
Their eating utensils and weapons show this blend, as twisted wrought iron and intricate designs decorate such practical, everyday items.
Sowell said he hopes to publish his findings in a historical journal.
Russo and Maxwell are collecting clothing from Goshen households to donate to Wayside Christian Mission, a homeless shelter on Louisville’s Market Street. They have collected and bagged thousands of items and are ready for their second drop-off of donations.
The first time workers from Wayside came to pick up clothes at the school, they drove a small pickup truck, Maxwell said. They left with a full truck bed and rode with bags of clothing in their laps.
This time, the NOHS students have collected even more. The bags fill Russo’s basement.
Tina Russo said she found herself frustrated that she didn’t have any room to place her Christmas decorations because of all the clothes, but caught herself. She is really glad to see her daughter give back to the community, even if that means a basement cluttered with 1,000 items of
Tina Russo said she thinks the class is making her daughter more well-rounded. She’s taking personal responsibility and learning about segments of society not always found in Goshen.
The project doesn’t just consist of collecting clothes for the down and out. Feb. 19 all students in the class will present at the senior project fair. In May they will give a 30-minute presentation to teachers and parents.
Steve Rauh has taught the class for the last four years, taking the idea from The J. Graham Brown School in Jefferson County. The senior project concept was incorporated at North Oldham during the school’s second year in existence.
Rauh said he sees enormous growth in most students during the project. Students learn personal initiative in developing a project. They learn time management. They learn networking skills as they overcome the fear of cold-calling adults. They learn skills in gaining the respect of those adults through their professionalism and they gain experience in giving a 30-minute presentation.
“That’s a big growth experience,” Rauh said. “You better have something you can talk about or it will be a tough 30 minutes.”
In order to have something to talk about, Maxwell and Russo have learned about poverty through visits to Wayside, and said they’ve been surprised by the variety of people who are struggling to make it. Some residents choose the way of life, Maxwell said.
But many face mental illness or crippling addictions, while some can’t climb out of poverty while working at minimum-wage jobs, she said.
“It’s not just a bunch of bums who aren’t trying,” she said.
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