|Highlands High School students shared their summer learning experiences in the Governor's Scholars Program, Governor's School for Entrepreneurs and the Governor's School for the Arts.|
By Robin Gee
"It’s a true life-changing experience... I feel like I’ve became a better person because of it," is how one Highlands High student, Davis Recht, described his experience in the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program. He was one of eight students who attended the five-week learning program over the summer at one of three Kentucky universities.
The students shared their experiences at the Fort Thomas Independent Schools September board meeting. The group was joined by four students who had similar experiences at the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs and one who attended the Governor’s School for the Arts also over the summer break.
Governor’s Scholars Program
"You are not there for the content, you’re not there to take a test... you are there for the learning, the passion for the learning, and getting inspired by the process," explained Recht.
One-third of the Fort Thomas students went to Bellarmine University in Louisville, one-third went to Morehead State University and one-third went to Centre College in Danville.
Each student had a focus class as well as other classes and outside-the-classroom experiences. Sawyer Depp, whose focus class was philosophy, said he didn’t feel the need to take any notes because he was so genuinely interested in the subject matter, it got his full attention. He learned through discussion and debate and deep, open conversations.
He said the experience helped him open up and be able to talk about things he’d never talked about before. On the third day of his philosophy class, he said, the teacher had them watch a video of an old SNL skit about blackface. He noted that everyone in the room grew silent and seemed very uncomfortable. Yet, by the end of the program he felt he could tackle any topic with openness and honesty.
"I can tell you by about the third or fourth week of GSP, I would be outside of my class debating with my friends things that I never have talked to anyone about. Things like abuse, difficult situations that people have gone through...and that was completely because of GSP," he said.
"When you get the brightest people in Kentucky together and you let them talk about some of the hardest topics possible, that’s when you solve problems. And so that’s something GSP excels at."
For Tyler Brown, the experience provided him a way to grow and expand even his own conceptions of who he was as a person. "...I was meeting new people who had no expectations of me. I had no expectations of them... I really came into my own, and I figured out who I am by seeing who I could be."
As part of his political and legal issues class, he helped the Lexington community welcome refugees. His group created a book for refugee children and helped set up a house for eight people coming to the city from the Congo. "It was a really great experience of working to help the community as a community."
The program helped senior Amy Herfel make an important life decision. The clock was ticking, and while she knew engineering interested her, she admits she didn’t really know where to go from there. After some "amazing" trips to area companies including the Toyota plant, Lexmark and GM, she decided to take the path to chemical engineering.
"I really saw my future...I would say if you have a child in the same position coming into your junior or senior year, I encourage you to have them apply, to see what they can get out of the experience. It really helped me decide what I was going to do with my life," she advised.
Governor’s Scholars Program students included Recht, Brown, Depp, Herfel, Austin Hyder, Hiren Lemma, Mehryn Toole and Abigail Verst.
Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs
The Kentucky Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs runs three weeks, and this year the program was at Northern Kentucky University for the first time. A highly competitive program, only 72 students were selected to attend from a field of 700 students across the state.
David Herfel outlined the key concept behind the program. "When you apply for GSE it’s a lot less about academics, grade point averages, less about that stuff, and it’s more about whether they think you have what it takes or what they call the entrepreneurial mindset."
The students worked with a business model canvas to plan out their ideas and develop a business plan. Herfel admitted he was totally unfamiliar with many of the terms when first presented, but his team got to work fleshing out their idea over the three-week period.
"We all drew up our business plans," he explained. "For us, we developed the idea of a traveling drive-in theater. You had people doing all sorts of things. Our traveling drive-in theater was more of an entertainment business, but you had people doing canned water, collars for dogs that tracked their health, all sorts of different ideas."
The students presented their ideas on the last day, and the top three ideas received monetary awards to get them started ($1,000, $750 and $500).
Molly Bucher said at first she was a little disappointed about having to spend three weeks of her summer, "but it ended up being one of the greatest experiences in my life. It was just really awesome to meet a bunch of different people that we had never met before and build relationships with them."
She said she loved having the opportunity to meet a variety of successful entrepreneurs from the vice president of the Bengals to the owners of Carabello Coffee. The experience pointed her in a new direction.
"Before I went to the program, I had never seriously considered entrepreneurship in my life. But now I think I’m going to minor in it or in business... I grew into myself, built confidence in public speaking, reaching out to other people and worked on a project I really believe in."
Although they didn’t walk away with any of the top awards, the team has decided to pursue their idea and keep working together with an eye toward participation at pitch presentations on the college level.
The students who attended the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs were Herfel, Bucher, Megan Farney and Elizabeth Roeding.
Governor’s School for the Arts
Only about 250 juniors and seniors are selected from 1,700 students who audition to be included in the summer program for the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. The program is held for three weeks at the University of Lexington. This year, Highlands High student Wyatt Richards represented Fort Thomas in the program.
The school offers nine art forms: vocal music, instrumental music, visual art, dance, film/photography, visual arts, drama, architecture/design and creative writing. Richards’ joined 11 other students in film and photography forming a tight-knit group.
He and the other students went of field trips and took photos of people on the streets of Lexington. Richards photographed street people, children at a day camp event, workers who were cleaning the streets of pigeon dung, a Fourth of July parade and performances by fellow students in the music program.
Each provided a unique experience to reach out to new people and to network, as well as practice his art, said Richards. At the Fourth of July event, he met someone who allowed him to use a drone to photograph the event from above. While shooting his classmates’ musical performance, he met someone who got him a gig taking photos of a country music performer.
Richards seemed most excited, however, about a film he created with another student. It was a challenge both in timing and in the students’ ability to work with other creatives in the process.
"We made a video, seven minutes long. We had only two-and-a-half days to plan it, a day to film it, three days to edit it. Then we finalized it and showed it to everyone there."
He auditioned and selected drama students to act in the film and worked with student musicians for the score.
"We had a rough cut and showed it to the music kids, and they basically scored it for us in one hour. For the last two minutes, we didn’t have it planned out for them so they improvised."
His film "Happy Pill" explores the idea of fitting in, the cost involved and what happens when one decides not to conform.
Board member Karen Allen saw the film and gave it a thumbs up, "It’s a powerful statement on conforming and mental health and to do it without dialog I thought was very impressive."
The board congratulated all the students for their hard work and thanked them for sharing their experiences.