- Olathe Public Schools
- OPS My Future
OPS My Future
#OPSMyFuture is a series featuring Olathe middle and high school students who are using what they have learned in our schools to make a positive impact on their future.
Our mission is to prepare every student for their future through our focus on the Portrait of a Graduate. The “Portrait of a Graduate” encapsulates what we want our students to know and be able to do before they leave our school district including Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, Initiative and Self Direction, Resilience and Social and Emotional Wellbeing, Communication, and Social and Cross-Cultural.
Check out the most recent #OPSMyFuture stories here. Want to nominate a student to be featured? Email your recommendation to email@example.com.
Learned Skills in the Workplace
Meet Some of Our Amazing High School Students
Graduate Wants to Give Back to Community
Senior Tyson Smith joined Olathe East High School during his junior year. Getting back into school after a year of virtual learning in his former district, Smith was encouraged by his teachers to get involved. Smith took that to heart.
“Coming to Olathe opened up so many opportunities that I didn’t really have at my old school, and I never really wanted to do,” Smith said. “But the teachers here are so supportive, and I’ve made friends through getting involved… I kept hearing my teachers say, ‘Why not go for it?’”
Go for it, indeed. Smith participates in Young Allies Club, Hawk Leaders, Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSAC), theatre and KAY club. As a Hawk Leader, Smith mentors freshmen by helping connect them to opportunities that may interest them at Olathe East. He quickly moved to be on the Hawk Leaders Executive Council, which led him to the SSAC, where he acts as an advocate for the teachers and students of Olathe East to district administration.
“I love SSAC. We not only get to express our thoughts and concerns to the superintendent, but I’ve got the chance to meet students from other schools,” Smith said. “We are all different and have different perspectives, but we are still all just teenagers. We are going through same things. When I’m there, I’ve realized I’m not alone – we are all not alone. It’s so great to see that the upper administration really cares and gives us a voice when they could just ignore us students.”
Smith has taken his advocacy position seriously, attending district events to better understand how the Olathe Public Schools works.
“I truly want to be educated and have the correct knowledge of our district,” Smith said. “I like to be involved and I care about the future of the Olathe Public Schools. I have two younger sisters that go here so the stuff happening now will affect them later. I want them to have just as great of an experience as I have had.”
Smith’s experiences have led him to figure out exactly what he wants for his #OPSMyFuture.
“I have learned so much about myself coming here. Being able to volunteer to mentor freshmen and help out in the community, I’ve learned how much I love to serve,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m headed to the National Guard. I like serving the school district, I like serving Olathe, why not serve the state of Kansas? They’ve given so much to me – why not give back?”
After graduation, he is headed to Fort Jackson for training. After serving in the National Guard, he plans to attend Kansas State University to major in business and Washburn University to get his law degree.
“I’m just trying to hit my goals. I’m the most excited to see what I can change about the world. There are so many things happening now that I don’t want for my kids, so I can’t wait to change the world or at least my world,” Smith said.
North Student Heading to International Science, Engineering Fair
Senior Logan Honors believes the reason he is still interested in science today is because of the teachers he’s had throughout his 12 years at Walnut Grove Elementary School, Pioneer Trail Middle School, and Olathe North High School.
“I have always had excellent math and science teachers who have helped keep the subjects interesting in new and different ways,” Honors said. “Good teachers are so important. The past few years, Ms. Clement and Ms. Reist have continued to keep me interested in science so much so that I am pursuing it in college.”
Honors is a member of the Distinguished Scholars Academy where he chose to focus on the science content area. This academy is made up of academically high-achieving students who immerse themselves in rigorous, non-traditional course work in either science, language arts, math, political science, or visual arts.
“For my senior capstone project, my goal was to design and create an efficient propeller by using 3D printing to prototype,” Honors said. “The initial design was on the computer, then I was able to print and install a testing rig to calculate efficiency in my prototyping. If 3D printing was the most efficient way to prototype, it would prove to be very useful and more widely accessible.”
He entered his capstone project into the Kansas City Science Engineering Fair. He was named one of four Grand Award winners, with the top three attending Olathe Public Schools.
“This capstone project has been really fun, and it goes along with what I want to do next,” Honors said. “I will be attending Wichita State University in the fall and studying aerospace engineering. Being a part of the academy gave me the insight to learn what I really wanted to do when I graduated high school.”
For Honors, that means literal rocket science. He hopes to graduate from college and then pursue further degrees or careers that would lead him to opportunities in rocket science.
“Having access to the Distinguished Scholars Academy has helped me in more ways than I can count,” Honors said. “The work that I have put in has paid off and I am excited to see what comes next.”
Honors’ Grand Award win qualifies him to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8-13, where over 80 countries will be represented.
OEHS Senior Ready for Next Stage of Life
Olathe East High School senior Madeline King believes the best decision she made for her #OPSMyFuture was to join the theatre program.
“The community is very strong, and I've made almost all of my friends through theatre,” King said. “Theatre teaches students valuable life lessons. We learn to deal with rejection, and we learn to advocate for ourselves and go after what we want. Theatre teaches great public speaking skills and gives students the tools needed to be confident in the presence of their peers. We also learn a lot about work ethic and professionalism. These lessons will be applicable in any career.”
King has been in a variety of shows such as “All Shook Up,” “Tarzan,” “Anastasia,” “Thirteen,” “Carrie,” “Mamma Mia,” and is in their current production “Movie Game” debuting this weekend. Olathe East theatre program has 109 Starlight Blue Star Award nominations, presented four plays at the International Thespian Festival, and has had three students win International Thespian Excellence Awards. Awards and honors aside, King feels at home in the theatre.
“For many students like me, theatre provides them with a sense of belonging. It's a safe environment for students to be themselves and express their thoughts through creativity,” King said. “Our theatre program is very inclusive and accepting, and I think we are good models for other students in that way.”
King has felt supported every step of the way during her time in Olathe Public Schools. She insists that her teachers — Eddie Shafer, Matthew Rentfrow, Garry Goddard, and Laura Klaassen — are the reason the Olathe East theatre program is top notch because “they go above and beyond in everything they do – working evenings, weekends, and during the summer.” But King has seen all her teachers and Principal Kerry Lane go out of their way to show up for the theatre program.
“All of my teachers are very supportive of theatre. They come to see all the shows and always congratulate me,” King said. “Our principal, Mrs. Lane, is extremely supportive of OE theatre. She sees every show and writes the leads congratulatory notes. It really means a lot to have such support for the arts among school staff.”
With this support as well as the way her core classes have prepared her for her next step, King feels confident that she “will be able to succeed because the classes are so rigorous.” She will be studying theatre at Northwestern University in the fall.
“I don't think any other program could have prepared me as well as OE theatre has. The students here are so talented and driven, and they constantly push me to improve as a performer,” she said. “Due to the abundance of talent, casting is extremely competitive, which has given me insight into what my college experience will be like. I have progressed so much as both a performer and person throughout these past four years.”
When she walks across the stage at graduation, she can be confident in knowing that it won’t be her last time on a stage due to the skills she has learned through the OE theatre program.
ONHS Senior Explores Healthcare Field
Senior Kariann Kitterman is soaking up every opportunity before she graduates.
Kitterman is a student at both Olathe North and Olathe Advanced Technical Center, where she is involved in the Sports Medicine Academy and the Emergency Medical Services program.
“I knew that I had an interest in the healthcare field, so I wanted to explore the different careers available,” Kitterman said. “All of these programs allow me to do just that without spending money.”
Kitterman’s days are filled with caring for others. During the school day, she is studying EMS where they run through hands-on solutions, conduct exams, and have a variety of paramedics from Johnson County instructing their labs. She is the vice president of student council at OATC, where she recently organized a fundraiser through Savers.
After school, she works as a student athletic trainer for basketball, wrestling, baseball, and is looking forward to the spring sports season. She is employed as a supportive care worker for Synergy Home Care – a job that she heard about through her OATC connections. Once a week, she takes CNA night classes, taught by one of our teachers.
“Participating in both CNA, EMS, and ATSA, will allow me to choose which side I prefer and open some doors for me,” Kitterman said. “I am considering taking the EMT course and possibly bridging over to become a nurse and eventually PA school, but I know now that I have plenty of options to choose from just my high school experience.”
Kitterman’s drive to take advantage of every opportunity throughout her high school career will take her far in whatever she decides to do after graduation. Her #OPSMyFuture is bright due to her passion for taking care of others, dedication to her own growth, and the educators who helped her along the way.
Passion Leads to Founding of Non-Profit
Komalpreet Kaur, Olathe East High School senior, found her passion at Olathe Public Schools. From her participation in the Civic Leadership Academy that has led to several opportunities at the City of Olathe and starting her own non-profit, Kaur has found a direction she wants her #OPSMyFuture to lead.
Kaur moved to Olathe in eighth grade, previously living in New York City.
“There are so many more opportunities here that I didn’t have access to in New York. There is something for literally everyone and you don’t have to be the top of your class or have a ton of money to succeed,” Kaur said. “The class options, extracurriculars, and how much people are always willing to listen and help is what makes this district top tier. It is little things like that that students and parents could take for granted, but I don’t.”
When her family landed in Olathe, they wanted to find a community. Her parents immigrated from Punjab, India, giving up everything to build a life here in the states for their children. In 2019, after working with the city, Kaur received a proclamation establishing April as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation month with the goal of uniting local Sikhs. This has inspired other cities like Lenexa, Shawnee, and KCK to establish a chapter with the Sikhs of America. Her parents’ immigration has shaped her life and led her to co-found the organization Eye of an Immigrant with her friend Jasneet Kaur.
“Eye of an Immigrant began as a storytelling campaign to break the stigma that immigration can have,” Kaur said. “Now we have three goals – to act as a resource hub, continue telling the stories of immigrants to combat hate, and help provide resources for legal applications and filings that immigrants need. We aim to help immigrant families overcome cultural barriers to achieve their American dream.”
Eye of an Immigrant has been featured on Café Corazon, local PBS station, numerous podcasts, and Kaur has been making the rounds at rotary clubs to bring awareness.
Kaur is a part of the Civic Leadership Academy where she studies Public Administration. After lunch, Kaur interns at the City of Olathe City Manager’s office. She facilitates Olathe Teen Council, helps with city events and various responsibilities, and does research projects about surrounding cities to see potential points of collaboration. She is passionate about serving as the voice of the Olathe Public Schools students to the City Council.
“I love serving as a voice of the youth of Olathe to the council, working on service and policy projects with other students, and learning more in my internship about the real world of public administration,” Kaur said. “I was able to learn early on what I am passionate about and how I can turn that passion into a reality. I now know what I want for my future before I graduate because of my time in the Civic Leadership Academy.”
Kaur plans on majoring in Global Studies or Political Science with a double minor in Business and Spanish. She plans to go to law school after college and get master’s degree in Public Administration in a joint MPA and JD program. She will continue to run her organization and is now undergoing the process to receive 501(c)(3) certification from the IRS to become a tax-exempt entity.
OPS Student Wins KC BizFest Scholarship
David Morones, Olathe West High School senior, is trying to decide between two subjects to major in: classical viola performance or theatre sound design. When he was younger, those weren’t even on his radar.
“Growing up, the arts were out of reach for kids like me. The only place that I could participate in the arts was at school because of different constraints,” Morones said. “Outside of school, participating in the arts is a privilege, when it should be a right.”
Morones’ desire for students in need to be able to express themselves through the arts in a convenient and affordable way inspired his entry for KC Biz Fest.
During the four-day intensive training seminar, KC BizFest focuses on helping students turn hobbies and skills into profit-making ventures, establish entrepreneurial and leadership goals, create plans for business and life, and become effective leaders and team players. Students learn the art of networking in business environments, identifying investment opportunities, implementing money management skills, and making public presentations. KC BizFest is sponsored by The Greater Kansas City Hispanic Collaborative and The Greater Kansas City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This year, the Olathe Public Schools’ Diversity and Engagement department had 15 high school students participate.
“My counselor sent me an email and I thought I might as well take this opportunity and try it,” Morones said. “Little did I know I would win a $1,500 scholarship that goes to whatever college I choose.”
Morones won that scholarship because of his presentation on an app that would match students with an affordable instructor based on their personal preference. Judges ranked him second among the 48 participants. He believes his time at Tomahawk Elementary School, Indian Trail Middle School, and Olathe West has given him the confidence and skills he will need for his future.
“My experiences in Olathe have shaped me to who I am today and who I will be,” Morones said. “I have found my passion and I am grateful for that. Now, I want to be able to give back to my community and make art more accessible for all.”
Middle School Student Coaches Dance Class for Students with Special Needs
Abby Vandaveer, Frontier Trail Middle School eighth grader, is an involved student. She is a part of FTMS theatre productions, choir, Olathe Middle School honor choir, state honor choir, band, and the dance team among other activities. But on Friday nights you can find her at Gaby Lucas House of Dance, coaching with the Extra Ordinary Troupe.
“My time with the Extra Ordinary Troupe is heaven on Earth. I just feel so much joy and peace – truly complete,” Vandaveer said. “That, along with my interaction with students at FTMS, has shown me what I want to do after high school.”
The Extra Ordinary Troupe is a class for dancers 21 years and younger “with extra ordinary abilities including cognitive or physical special needs.”
“We are all different ages and may have different abilities, but it doesn’t matter. We are just friends dancing together,” Vandaveer said. “And at school, we are all just students. In both places, teachers have had such a powerful influence on me seeing them interact with all kids.”
Born and raised in Olathe, Vandaveer believes her education at OPS in part has helped her find her passion: working in special education, whether that is through music therapy or being a special education teacher.
“Being able to have all students in the same classes is powerful. I love being able to help students if they need it,” Vandaveer said. “We’re all able to learn acceptance and inclusion at a young age, which will help later on in life for us as adults to be more inclusive and accepting of people who are different than us.”
Our vision is for students to be prepared for their future. Even if Vandaveer chooses a different path, the initiative, communication, social skills, and resilience she is learning will stick with her for a lifetime.
Olathe Race Car Association
Senior Zander Taylor has wanted to work on cars ever since he was a young boy, helping his grandfather. Now, he is graduating from Olathe Advanced Technical Center in the Automotive Technology program. In his free time, he is employed at Olathe Toyota as a tech and works on his own car. But on Tuesday afternoons? He is racing the radio-controlled (RC) cars that he and other club members have built.
The Olathe Race Car Association (ORCA) is a student-run RC car racing club that OATC students formed this year with the hopes of expanding districtwide. Students build their own car, find business sponsors, and continue to maintain their cars in between races. Taylor has found this club to be a great addition to what he is learning in class.
“One thing that I think we all learned was how to go talk to businesses about sponsoring our cars,” Taylor said. “This not only helps us with our cars now, but can help us get our name out to businesses that we may be interested in working for.”
Taylor’s car is sponsored by Olathe Toyota, who he hopes to continue working for past high school. Taylor believes his enrollment in the Automotive Tech program at OATC helped him get to where he is today and is preparing him for his future when he applies for their Master Tech program.
“I love being in the Automotive Tech program. When it’s something you enjoy doing like all of us do, we all want to be here and to learn,” Taylor said. “It’s helped develop my passion for cars and I know I am going to use everything I’m learning after I graduate.”
Racing RC cars to some may seem like a fun club, but it is so much more. Students are able to learn how to build cars with less expense, as well as develop their art, geometry, physics, reading, entrepreneurship, self-regulation, and sportsmanship skills. Automotive Tech students, like Taylor, leave high school with the knowledge and experience to enter into the workforce immediately if they want to, or to never have to take their car into the shop again.
(Photo: Four ORCA members display their radio-controlled cars.)
Future Educators Academy Students Mentor Middle School Students
Olathe East High School junior Sofia VanNoy pulled up to Santa Fe Trail Middle School ready to put what she has learned in the Future Educators Academy (FEA) to use at the Saturday Scholars program. Saturday Scholars is in its 14th year of connecting high school mentors to sixth and seventh grade students who need some help with their STEAM content, as well as building their confidence and leadership skills.
During her freshman year, VanNoy would have described herself as quiet. When she was matched with a shyer student at Saturday Scholars, she combined her previous experience with the knowledge of different teaching styles she learned at FEA to make an impact.
“I let the student lead. I listened to him and saw that he just needed time to think instead of me jumping in,” VanNoy said. “In my FEA classes, I’ve learned about different learning styles. After a few minutes of observing him, I knew how to teach him based on his specific needs.”
Throughout the day, however, VanNoy quickly realized she was learning more than she was teaching.
“Saturday Scholars isn’t about me or the other 50-plus mentors. Sure, we get the real-world experience of teaching, but it’s more about the students,” she said. “I was able to learn from my student and see that it’s about encouraging the students to realize that they can do it and that their perspective matters.”
This passion for encouraging others and pursuing a career in education is thanks in large part to the teachers she’s had in her years in Olathe Public Schools.
“I’ve always had good teachers, like Ms. Staples (FEA teacher), that have provided space for me to express myself and learn different perspectives, and I want to be that for someone,” the aspiring languages arts teacher said. “My FEA classes have helped me to get outside my comfort zone. Everyone in this academy is so helpful, kind, and they listen. We all love kids and want to teach them according to their needs.”
The vision of the Olathe Public Schools is to prepare our students for their future. In VanNoy’s case, we are preparing her for not only her future as a teacher, but also preparing the next generation of students for success.
(Photo of Sovia VanNoy in Olathe East High School)
Olathe Northwest Students' Drawings Made 3D by Peers
When Olathe Northwest High School students drew their very own wild things after reading Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” they did not know their peers would be making them into their very own stuffed animals.
Lisa Hirsch, Olathe Northwest art teacher, has always wanted to do a project like this.
“After all of the separation we have experienced during the pandemic I really wanted to find a way to help bring our students together. This idea had always lingered in my mind,” Hirsch said. “Once I showed the sculpture students the fabric and the drawings – there was no stopping them.”
The sculpture students learned about Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the creators of the shuttlecock sculptures at Nelson-Atkins Museum, and the idea of designing soft sculptures. When their soft sculptures were complete, they revealed them to their peers who had drawn them.
ONWHS teacher Domonique Fluis watched as her students lit up at the sight of their creations in 3D.
“This project meant so much to my students, our staff, and parents, because feeling included is important for all students,” Fluis said.
Although the students learning how to sew and draw are important — the creativity, communication, and social skills within the project are exactly what we at OPS are aiming for in our Portrait of a Graduate, the focus of our strategic plan.
(Photo: Students pose with their stuffed animal designs.)
Olathe West Named 2021 Kansas Green School of Year
Solar panels, laser engraving machines, air tightness testing simulator, solder iron, farm bots, and 3D printers are not typically found in a classroom. But the Green Tech Academy is not your typical classroom.
Olathe West High School junior Peyton Phillips has always had a passion for improving the environment and a desire to be an engineer. She was surprised to learn that those two could go hand-in-hand.
“Green Tech Academy students explained to me that they got to learn about the engineering field along with the environment to learn how to build a career and support your community with this education,” Phillips said.
She has been able to do just that. Throughout her years in Green Tech, she has been able to get involved with the community through career events and partnerships with other companies and universities.
“I have had the opportunity to visit the Capitol in Topeka for WEALTH (Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation, and Health) Day to speak to state representatives about what I would like to see for a greener Kansas,” Phillips explained. “I appreciate that Green Tech has helped me gain my voice in the environmental world and be able to share it often.”
Although the Green Tech curriculum is designed to teach about all aspects of the environment, Phillips believes that she has learned valuable life and technical skills for her future.
“I have been able to gain strength in public speaking and learn different hands-on skills, such as welding and 3D printing and design, which most students don't get the chance to learn about in a normal classroom,” Phillips said. “Thanks to the academy, I know how to speak to those educationally and factually above me while managing to maintain their trust and my creditability as a high school student.”
With their efforts, Olathe West was named the 2021 Green School of the Year Award by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education. A Green School is a healthy, environmentally friendly space to work, learn, and play, which incorporates quality, non-biased environmental education across the curriculum, using the facility and grounds themselves as opportunities for educational experiences.
Phillips and the rest of the class held up their plaque proudly, grateful to be named the 2021 Green School of the Year, with the goal to inspire all schools to do their part and become greener for the better.
BioMedical Engineering Students Conduct EEG Research
Tej Maheshwari, Olathe South senior, was interested in the brain from both his BioMedical Engineering Academy and Advanced Placement Psychology class. Partnering with fellow senior Maggie Ridgway, they decided to study the brain’s ability to focus.
The duo secured an electroencephalogram (EEG) device, which detects electrical activity in the brain. To operate the device, Maheshwari and Ridgway learned how to code, read the data, and figure out how to conduct experiments using a baseline that will lead them to their final research project next semester. Typically, these types of projects, devices, and research would be done in a college setting.
“I believe that it is important for students to try out a career pathway in high school because it allows you to test out career fields that you think you may like without the stress of paying for classes,” Ridgway said. “They may discover a career or career field that they want to pursue before setting foot on a college campus.”
Maheshwari networked at the BioMedical Engineering advisory council meeting where a community professional connected the pair with a graduate student who is currently utilizing similar EEG devices in their research. Maheshwari and Ridgway are now meeting with him regularly in hopes of gleaning knowledge from a mentor on EEGs and other research techniques.
“Very few students my age can say they have hands-on experience working with EEG technology. I hope the skills I gain in coding, data analysis, and project management along with the knowledge I gain in engineering and medical science can all advance me,” Maheshwari said. “Knowing I’m about to graduate high school and move on to college, I am excited to use everything I learn from this project to achieve future success.”
Everything we do in Olathe Public Schools is to prepare our students for their future – wherever that may lead them as they leave our halls and enter the workforce, technical school, or college. Maheshwari and Ridgway are looking forward armed with the knowledge they have learned, with the hopes that their #OPSMyFuture is bright.
(Left photo: Senior Maggie Ridgway wears the EEG device and reflects on the raw data coming from her brainwaves. Right photo: Senior Tej Maheshwari poses for the camera while coding the EEG device to provide the results he wants to record.)