Projects aim to inspire changePublished 4:58pm Tuesday, October 9, 2012
As soon as school began, Dowagiac Union High School English teacher Dustin Cornelius presented a challenge to students, asking them to find a way to change the world.
While that may seem like a tall order for his freshman honors English class, Cornelius had the help of the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward,” starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. In the film, Osment’s character accepts the same challenge from his own teacher, played by Spacey, to find a way to change society and the world they live in. The film then details how if one person helped three strangers in a big way, the strangers would then be challenged to do the same for three more strangers, thus helping a mass of people.
Cornelius kicked off the project by showing the film to his class and then giving them the same task.
“For the past month, they have been devising a way to change the world, our school and our community,” Cornelius said Tuesday during the class’ presentation to a collection of board of education and community representatives.
Six groups presented their ideas for how to have a positive impact on others in the building, the community and hopefully the world.
“School is a lot of theory and thought,” Cornelius said. “But we never do anything with these thoughts, so I asked them to put a plan in process to meet a need in Dowagiac or the world.”
Project ideas ranged from curbing the number of texting-and-driving related deaths to Operation Shoebox, which would send shoeboxes full of supplies and toys to children affected by the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Other students came up with ideas like Acts of Random Kindness (ARK); Project Prom, which would provide fun entertainment after prom and graduation to prevent drinking and driving; suicide awareness; and a high school mentoring program for elementary students struggling in class.
“We’ve learned a lot from this situation,” Cornelius said. “As a class, we can now adopt one or two of these projects and make them a reality.”
DeYonte Sullivan, who helped form Operation Shoebox, said that the idea stemmed from an original idea by an international organization.
“Seth (Fear, a classmate), did Operation Christmas Child through his church,” Sullivan said. “We looked at all our ideas and thought it would be a cool idea to use and make our own.”
Jessica Burns, who created High School Helpers, the mentoring program, said her idea came out of the blue.
“It’s important that younger kids get better educations and mentoring is one way to help,” Burns said.
Anne Zebell, who presented ARK, said the idea encompasses something anyone and everyone can do, from picking up trash in the hallway to saying something nice to someone.
But the projects didn’t come without some challenges. Sullivan said the biggest challenge trying to find out where to start, while Zebell said communication sometimes was difficult. In the end, two groups were tied and chosen as finalists — ARK and the suicide prevention project, which detailed dedicating an entire week to spreading awareness and help for those dealing with suicidal thoughts.
Cornelius said after students vote a second time for the overall winner, the group will then get to begin putting their plan into action.
“Dowagiac is a great place filled with great kids and we wanted to show that off,” Cornelius said.