Frontier High School projects give back to Mansfield

Posted Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Back-to-school week!

Saturday: Supplies that stand out

Monday: Unique after-school activities

Tuesday: Ways to punch up lunch

Wednesday: Quick family dinner ideas

Thursday: Parents share first-day wisdom

Saturday: Redesigning dorm rooms

Sunday: Class projects making a difference

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On Monday, thousands of high school seniors in the DFW area will swarm back to their high school campuses. One last time, they’ll try to get into the groove of balancing academic demands with extracurricular activities, all while keeping up with graduation requirements, completing college applications and combating the early (and seemingly inevitable) signs of senioritis.

At Frontier High School in the Mansfield school district, seniors will have all of these considerations plus something more: They will consider whether they’ll organize a charity campaign or host a documentary screening, or maybe design a life-altering implantation device.

At least, that’s what members of the Class of 2014 achieved.

Every future graduate at Frontier must take a Senior Project Class, which requires them to develop a project that reflects a personal interest and academic or career goals.

And in the past three years — the campus opened in 2011 — these projects have had positive and significant effects in the community.

For instance, Melany Gonzalez, Class of ’13, developed a vision for MYLO — short for Mansfield Youth Leadership Organization — designed for “the kids that may have it put together from the outside, but not the inside,” she says. Graduates of her leadership curriculum, aspiring young professionals, go on to complete college and then return to their network of connections in Mansfield to continue living and working in the community.

Her classmate Colt Taylor’s senior project turned into a writer’s apprenticeship when he teamed up with local author Diane Kelly and, under her guidance, worked on three book manuscripts.

“During the time we worked together, I found myself mentioning Colt to friends and acquaintances because I was so impressed by his work ethic and creativity,” Kelly says. “A couple of people who had talked about ‘writing a book someday’ seemed to be motivated by my stories of this young adult.”

The Class of 2012 got a fantastic prom thanks to Sheridon McGrew’s project, which involved not only event management but camera work, too. His mentor, Glenda Beckwith of Alexander Portrait Designers, still works with McGrew when he returns home on breaks from Sam Houston State University.

“My favorite aspect of the senior project is watching these students evolve over the semester from shy, unorganized individuals to confident, well-spoken young adults,” says Frontier’s principal, Catherine Hudgins. “It is quite a transformation. …”

Frontier calls itself “a school within a school,” meaning that students who maintain good academic standing and who are interested in focusing more closely on their post-secondary education goals may transfer to Frontier in their junior year of high school. Many plan to attend trade school after they graduate, while others get a jump on college by taking dual-credit college courses.

The school’s mascot is, appropriately, the Trailblazer.

Melanie Stillings, the teacher responsible for developing the Senior Project Class’s unique curriculum, says the projects require students to fulfill what she calls “the four P’s”: creating a product or project, putting together a portfolio, being placed in an internship or with a mentor and, finally, making a presentation. In the process, the high school kids find themselves out in the community, interacting and bonding with business owners and other adults, learning “real world” lessons and, often accidentally, expanding their opportunities and goals.

“It’s been amazing to watch,” Stillings says. “Time and time again, I see how these projects change and refine the students’ plans for their lives, and, more surprisingly, what a positive effect their projects have on their mentors and the community at large. … I could tell you a million stories — like the girl who was interested in nursing so she got involved with a hospital’s neonatal unit and designed an educational campaign to teach parents how to handle a newborn. She’ll go off to college, but that hospital can use that information forever.”

Here are just a few of the projects by recent graduates that have impacted the students, their mentors, the community and the world at large.

Chisom Onwuka, ’14

Chisom Onwuka is already making contributions to the medical community by improving the lives of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). His project, the Psychiatric Health-Loss Unit for Traumatic Recovery (PH-LUTR), created an implantation device to release treatment medication more slowly into the back of a patient’s spine and through cerebrospinal fluid.

“This way the medication would last longer and have a continuous effect,” he says.

Shortly after his presentation, he learned of other researchers receiving government funding for a similar project. Instead of being discouraged by this, Onwuka used it as motivation to continue pursuing his research.

“Many students began to see the difference they could make in the world when seeing Chisom’s project,” says engineering and robotics teacher Beverly VerSteeg, who helped him approach the project from an engineering perspective.

Arlington neurologist Frederick Todd, another of Onwuka’s mentors, has encouraged him to keep working on the device, which has the potential to make a critical difference in people’s lives.

Onwuka is entering the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg as a pre-pharmacy student, and he hopes to continue work on his device.

“I want to make this project my life,” he says.

Kaylie Bowman, ’14

Kaylie Bowman had seen firsthand the importance of a simple water well in the lives of people in Third World environments, so she dedicated her senior project to raising money for a well in a little village in Nigeria called Osula.

Bowman approached Lauren Phillips of Empty Bucket Ministries — an organization with which Bowman had taken mission trips to Haiti and Nicaragua ( www.emptybucketministries.org) — about being her senior project mentor on a plan to host a Worth of Water Benefit Concert. Phillips says she knew it would be an opportunity to raise awareness in Mansfield about the importance of water to public health worldwide.

“You can’t live without water, and many have to walk miles each day just to fetch a small bucket of water,” Phillips says.

Bowman worked with the ministry, the city water department and Music Place Mansfield to organize her charity concert featuring Fort Worth singer Nick Lokken. The Worth of Water concert, which took place in April, attracted 200 people and raised almost half of the $3,000 cost of the Osula well.

“Everyone was so amazed at the condition of Africa’s unclean water,” Bowman says.

Bowman, who will pursue a degree at the University of Texas at Arlington this fall and major in neonatal nursing, says she intends to plan a second Worth of Water concert later this year.

Michael Ogle Jr., ’14

Juvenile justice reform is often hidden behind bars, but Michael Ogle Jr. used his senior project to increase awareness of corruption in the system, both in Texas and nationwide.

With help from his teacher-mentor Chris Vasquez, a former police officer, Ogle conducted extensive research on criminal justice statistics here and abroad.

“The more research he conducted, the more interested he felt reform was needed,” Vasquez says.

Vasquez introduced Ogle to a recent documentary called Kids for Cash by filmmaker Robert May, about a judge in Columbine, Colo., who turned a profit by sentencing minors to a newly built juvenile correction facility. (See the trailer at http://kidsforcashthemovie.com.)

The next step for Ogle was recruiting an impressive roster of law enforcement and elected officials to serve on his Juvenile Justice Reform Panel, among them, Tarrant County Constable Clint Burgess, Mansfield Mayor David Cook and Police Chief Gary Fowler.

Ogle’s panel was so impressed by his research that they encouraged him to continue spreading awareness in Mansfield. Ogle planned to do so with a public Kids for Cash screening in the spring, but ticket sales fell short of the movie theater’s requirement.

However, Ogle moved forward with a plan for a summer screening in Arlington. This time, ticket sales exceeded the required minimum.

“The event was a great success,” Vasquez says. “So many of our future students will benefit from the relationships and contacts that Michael was instrumental in forging.”

Ogle says he would like to continue raising awareness about juvenile justice reform issues. This fall, he begins his post-secondary studies in a criminal justice program at Tarrant County College; then he plans to enter the police academy.

The ultimate goal, he says, is to return to Mansfield as a police officer.

“I’ve always been interested in being a police officer,” he says, “and I love Mansfield and think being on the police force here would be great.”

Ali Damani, ’12

As an award-winning, internationally competitive DECA student, Ali Damani had already demonstrated his aptitude for business during his years at Frontier, but his senior project bumped that up a notch.

He joined with a group to found a philanthropic organization called Young Minds and worked to handle the group’s business matters — setting up a tax identification number, creating accounting documents and filing for his organization’s nonprofit status.

With the help of project advisers at Frost Bank and Texas Trust, Young Minds created educational and business subsidiaries, an anti-bullying campaign called Put Your Foot Down and a clothes donation project called Dress Smart, which arranged for donations of business attire for students to wear at interviews and presentations.

“Our goal with Put Your Foot Down was to raise awareness of bullying and to educate young students about its ramifications,” Damani says.

The biggest impact of his senior project, Damani says, was witnessing up close the differences that volunteer operations make in people’s lives. Today, Damani is attending Southern Methodist University and majoring in business, and he says his positive experiences with Young Minds have put philanthropic work on his personal road map.

“It was phenomenal to see our vision of making a change taking place right in front of us,” he says.

Matthew Donovan, ’13

Bullying was of interest to Matthew Donovan as well, especially after he learned that approximately 76 percent of Mansfield high school students say they’ve witnessed it.

He researched the issue with a senior project called Fight In School Torment (FIST) and found that the majority of kids in his own hometown have seen bullying occur on campus — and almost as many have witnessed cyberbullying.

Donovan says he was surprised to learn how often bullying follows students outside of school and into their homes, taking away the security and protection of the home as a last refuge.

To spread awareness, he developed a merchandising, marketing and donation collection program that included selling bully-prevention wristbands, and he raised $200 to give to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

“I learned so much about bullying and its effect on our youth,” says teacher Natalie Franklin, one of his mentors.

Another teacher-mentor, Nancy Kojder, says Donovan’s campaign inspired his classmates to think differently about bullying. “By publicizing how widespread the problem is, it removed the stigma of discussing it in the open,” she says.

Heading back to Austin College for his second year, Donovan says he hopes to continue raising awareness for the important topic at his campus community.

Cecilia Vela, ’12

Initially, Cecilia Vela wasn’t overwhelmed with excitement about an internship at a bridal boutique, but she had her eye on the glamorous world of mainstream fashion and suspected that sales experience gained at Classy Concepts Bridal & Formal in Mansfield couldn’t hurt. Two years later, she says her Classy Concepts connection has impacted her life in multiple ways.

“I remember walking into my interview, not knowing what to expect,” Vela recalls. “The owner, Sue Scheele, greeted me with such enthusiasm, [and] by the end of the interview — hours later — I knew I hadn’t only found a mentor. … Instead [I found] a lifelong friend.”

Scheele trained Vela, took her to industry shows, taught her marketing skills, helped her with college applications and took her to visit college campuses. Vela attends Texas Wesleyan University and is pursuing a degree in business marketing. Much of what she already knows, she says, came from Scheele.

“Sue worked with me for weeks developing a new sales tool that would help improve bridesmaid [dress] sales,” Vela says. “Together we created a tool for all the consultants to use as facilitation when selling.”

When Vela’s internship ended, Scheele offered her a job at Classy Concepts. Today, she is an assistant manager.

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