Saline High School Seniors Learn About the Needs of Local Residents by Researching, Volunteering

 12/02/2016 - 01:41
Members of the Saline High School capstone class explain the needs of people who use the Saline Area Social Service agency.

Saline High School students have received well-deserved attention for the annual treks to Haiti, where students help Poured Out provide people with safe, clean water. The trips are perhaps the hallmark of the capstone program.

But you don’t have to travel eight hours by plane to make a difference in the world. You can do that right here in Saline and Washtenaw County.

That was the message from about 80 Saline High School students who presented reports on local nonprofit groups  and the needs of the people who use them, Thursday afternoon at Saline High School.

For a trimester, capstone students have been volunteering at and researching local agencies.

Capstone is a year-long class taught by Jeff Pike and Jen and Drew Denzin. Students earn credits in English, science and social studies. But but the overarching goal of the class is a little loftier.

“It’s to teach students to be good citizens,” said Pike.

In the first trimester, students learn about local and state issues. Next trimester, they’ll tackle national issues. In the spring, they’ll focus on international issues.

“We deal in issues that these students are going to be dealing with when they are our age and we’re in the great beyond,” Pike said.

At the local level, that means poverty, hunger, homelessness and grief. It’s about the challenges of an aging population or the way we treat animals.

Students researched and volunteered a dozen Washtenaw County agencies, including Saline Area Social Service, Ozone House, Food Gatherers, Huron Valley Pace and the Humane Society for Huron Valley. Then, dressed in business attire, they explained to an audience the positive impact these services have on our community.

In the process, some students learned about the impact these services made on their own lives.

In conducting her research on Food Gatherers, which feeds residents in Washtenaw County, Julie Palmer volunteered their twice. She’s met her coursework obligation but she plans to continue volunteering.

“I discovered Food Gatherers because of this class but I’m going to continue going back,” Palmer said.

Palmer enjoyed preparing food, but there was something she enjoyed more.

“When people came in and picked up their meals you could see the impact you made,” Palmer said.

One of the surprising presentations came from a group of students who’d met each week at The Quilting Season to stitch pillow cases, stockings, and other goods for the young patients at Mott Hospital and for local retirement homes. Senior Sera Smallish has been volunteering at The Quilting Season since seventh grade. She brought several other student into the quilting world, including Marley Duerst.

“I’d never used a sewing machine before, but I learned how to make a quilt. The first time I ever sewed two things together, I couldn’t believe I actually did it,” Duerst said.

The group continues to visit The Quilting Season every Thursday, even though their homework is done.

One of the people they work with at The Quilting Season is veteran Jim Duff, who spoke to the audience about how quilting and sewing for others has improved his health. Duff suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He’d tried different activities, like putting puzzles together, but still struggled to get a good night’s sleep. His mother recommended quilting.

“I was at my wit’s end and had to try something, so I tried quilting, but I could only get so far and I needed answers. Sure enough, I found the ladies at The Quilting Season,” Duff said. “I had PTSD pretty bad and this has helped a lot.”

The few words Duff said clearly resonated with the audience. The Quilting Season group received an impassioned round of applause.

Most of the people in the audience were students. The audience also included local leaders like Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden, Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal, and Saline Fire Chief Craig Hoeft.

Another guest was Brandon Black, who raises funds for United Way of Washtenaw County, which funds many of the organizations highlighted Thursday. He was impressed by the program.

“I think it’s wonderful. It’s great to get such energy,” Black said. “These students have taken a lot of time to research and understand the important work these agencies do. They did a great job.”

While the presentations were informational for audiences they were also the final final exams for the trimester. Students were graded on their scripts, presentation skills, wardrobe, visual aids and other factors.
Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at or call him at 734-272-6294.

Follow the author on         or visit   Personal Blog