By Crystal Hayduk
Students in Chelsea High School’s Program for Independent Living will be able to go on a special field trip thanks to Chelsea’s Main St. Light Pole decorating contest held in December.
The program, informally known as Independence Hall (IH), helps students with different learning challenges by incorporating traditional academics with social, vocational, and daily living skills.
Teacher Katy Fillion learned about the contest through a Facebook post last fall. Her students immediately expressed enthusiasm for the project, especially with the possibility of winning prize money. Teachers seek learning experiences to challenge their students, and with classroom budgets perpetually squeezed, the light pole decorating contest seemed like a lifesaver.
Decorating ultimately became a big Life Saver—the hard candy type. When tasked with developing ideas to adorn their assigned light pole on Middle Street west of Main Street, the students came up with the candy theme. Student Jacob Nelson said Candyland is his favorite board game; and people give and receive candy at Christmastime. The group’s tagline was, “The road to independence is sweet.”
Using objects available in their classroom, along with additional items purchased from the Dollar Tree, the students made giant lollipops and hard candies. Acer Grieb and his mom, Stefani, figured out how to make gumdrops out of plastic buckets. The students also crafted gingerbread people with pictures of their faces to personalize the light pole.
Fillion, her classroom paraprofessionals, and the students decorated their light pole together. Student Jacob Hollis said his favorite decoration was the pine garland around the pole, while his classmate, Ava Hinz-Johnson, liked their system of attaching items with zip ties and wire.
Once the pole was decorated, students designed posters advertising their participation. Cypress Werderitsch learned how to generate a QR code for the poster so people with smartphones could easily vote.
Students, including Grant Bareis, hung the posters around the high school and in town. Classmate Ella Menze said her large family made voting part of their daily routine.
Fillion attributes their success at winning the People’s Choice award to family and community involvement. “There was quite a group cheering for us,” she said. Among 64 decorated poles, IH received 44 percent of the votes.
When Fillion was notified at the end of December that her class had won $200, it was a thrilling honor.
But more surprises were in store for these hard-working students.
Sue Jacobs, CPA, the recipient of the Chamber Choice award, paid her $200 winnings forward to IH. Her pole was the lighted patchwork crochet “tree” located near her downtown office, on the southeast corner of Main and Middle Streets.
After seeing an empty pole in 2021, she envisioned a crocheted tree, which is popular in other countries, for 2022. To ensure its completion, she solicited the help of friends.
It took a year of planning and 12 friends, each crocheting five to seven 12 x 12 inch squares, to complete the 54 squares. Then she and Claire Robinson sewed them together.
Shawn Thompson built the tree-shaped structure. Jacobs’ husband, Steve Jacobs, proposed the idea to light it from the inside, allowing light to shine through the tiny holes of the crochet patterns.
“When we saw the Facebook post about the class using their winnings for a field trip, we thought we could help them have an even better field trip by donating our prize money,” Jacobs said.
As it turned out, Jacobs wasn’t the only person who understands how expensive it would be to send nine students with their teachers on a field trip.
Laser Electronics, a company that provides piecework for the students as part of their vocational education, donated $200. An anonymous donor also gave IH $200. Together, IH has an $800 budget for their class field trip. “We are so very thankful for this money,” said Fillion.
Fillion said students do group work and are involved in decisions, all part of the district’s goal for them to develop the skills of the Portrait of a Graduate.
In this case, the students need to brainstorm ideas, democratically choose one, make a budget, and develop a final plan.
Some of the students are already dreaming of their ideal field trip. Jackson Wariner loves sports, so he would like to attend a Red Wings hockey game. Henry Kothe hopes to visit Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village. Werderitsch, a martial arts aficionado, would like to get active at a trampoline park.