- Olathe Public Schools
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learned Skills in the Workplace
Meet Some of Our Amazing Middle and High School Students
Students Intern with Local Architecture Firm over the Summer
Last spring, Olathe West High School Architecture teacher Kevin Hulsen approached senior Daylin Kennedy and recent West grad Lavinia Gowing about interning at local firm Webster Architects. This summer, Kennedy and Gowing immersed themselves in the world of architecture, gaining invaluable real-world experience.
“We’ve been able to sort and study old home plans, go out to active job sites, and even redesign old spec houses,” Kennedy said. “I love being able to be creative and work through problem solving in order to do things like fitting a spec house on a new lot.”
For Gowing, this internship was the cherry on the top of her high school education where teachers and counselors pointed her in the right direction.
“For the longest time, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Junior year had already hit, and I felt lost,” Gowing said. “During my senior year, I explored different classes that I thought I would like and ended up taking Architecture Design 1 and 2 and loved it. Architecture was a happy marriage where I could put my creative brain to work while also utilizing the logical thinking that I thrive on and crave.”
Kennedy, on the other hand, always knew that he wanted to be an architect, citing a project in the sixth grade where he was challenged to draw his dream house. He has been hooked ever since.
“I like the idea of designing something that you can leave in the physical world,” Kennedy said. “I love outputting creative energy into something that is tangible.”
Both Kennedy and Gowing moved to the Olathe area in the last few years and were excited to see the expansive list of classes they could enroll in.
“If I never took architecture or engineering, I wouldn’t have had the chance to have this internship and explore deeply into a career I could be passionate about,” Kennedy said. “I would tell other students to seize the opportunities because, from my experience, Olathe has more opportunities for their students than most districts to explore future careers.”
Because of Gowing’s time with both Hulsen’s classes and Webster Architects, she is now enrolled in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Kansas.
“With Olathe Public Schools, I was able to look outside of my core classes to find what I want to do,” Gowing said. “I am now in this program, and I know my classes and internship have given me a leg up because I had this hands-on experience that others are not able to have.”
(Photo: Olathe West graduate Lavinia Gowing and Olathe West senior Daylin Kennedy stand in front of a Webster Architects' design.)
Olathe North Grad Starts Business with Skills Learned in School
Recent Olathe North High School graduate Oswaldo “Ozzy” Polanco walked into the Olathe Lowrider Leadership Bike Club as a freshman just wanting to build a bike and four years later, he won major awards in a national competition.
“The first time I came in, I immediately felt like home,” Polanco said. “They are the ones who nicknamed me Ozzy. And it just stuck for good. That club is not just to make bikes – it’s a family.”
Polanco first heard about the club after his neighbor brought home a lowrider bike that he had built at the Olathe Leadership Lowrider Bike Club, which offers students an opportunity to build a custom bike and a place to belong.
“That’s family right there. Erik (Erazo, executive director of diversity and engagement) and the cops and mentors that help out with the club are responsible for helping me realize my talent,” he said. “A deeper understanding of lowrider culture isn’t the only thing that I got out of the club.”
Polanco definitely has talent. He placed second in “Semi-Custom Lowrider Bike” and won a special award — Best Graphics — at the 2022 Albuquerque Lowrider Super Show.
“When they asked if I wanted to go, I thought what a great honor,” he said. “Being able to bring back awards and show my parents that I won this after all my hard work. I am so grateful.”
Polanco loves to make his parents proud. He started attending the Olathe Advanced Technical Center to be a part of the Auto Collison program. Through his classes and hard work, he will attend Johnson County Community College on a full-ride scholarship due to being named a CTE scholar.
“My parents came here to the U.S. to do something for us and I am going to make the most out of it for them,” Polanco said. “I am blessed that I’m able to get this full-ride and take that burden off my parents. My mindset was to not go to college but now I can because of my mentors who told me I could.”
Polanco can’t wait to start school in the fall. In the meantime, he has started his own business, called Ozzy KC Customs, to be able to put the skills he learned to good use.
“I didn’t know I had the talent to paint or to weld or to be creative, but it truly just takes one person to make people feel good and make them feel like they can do it,” he said. “I now am going to school full time, and I can still make money doing something I truly enjoy because of this club. The fact that I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I am still managing to make my family and myself proud – that’s priceless.”
CTMS Student Shares Her Love of Math
California Trail Middle School incoming eighth grader Mahi Kohli won first place at the MATHCOUNTS state championship, sealing her spot at the national championship in early May. But her interest in math doesn’t stop at competing – she wants to share her love for math with others.
In April, Kohli organized her very own event called STEMing with the Stars, a competition for elementary-aged girls with the goal of encouraging female students to learn more about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
“When I was a kid and I first started participating in these competitions, there was always only a handful of girls there,” Kohli said. “It was disappointing because I knew there were so many girls in my class who really loved math. Even now, when I partner with other girls in math class, I see their potential to be successful in STEM – but for some reason or another, they don’t want to pursue it.”
Kohli believes early interest may be the key to seeing more young women in STEM fields.
“Even if one girl changes her mindset or her perspective, I would call that a win,” Kohli said. “With over 40 girls participating in this year’s STEMing with the Stars, it’s quite possible.”
To host the competition, Kohli presented to leaders at Garmin to secure the resources needed. She also enlisted the help of Olathe Public Schools math coordinator Spencer Brown and the local Girls Scouts of America to make her vision a reality. Kohli hopes she can pass on her love for math that was instilled in her by her teachers.
“Have you ever noticed the way shells curve in the Golden Ratio? Or recognized the Fibonacci sequence in flowers?” Kohli said. “I’ve just always been really amazed and fascinated with how math is everywhere – especially in nature. Once I started learning more about mathematics from my teachers, I got really interested in it and was ready to compete.”
Kohli was thrilled that she was one of 224 mathletes from the nation to compete at the national championship in May. Although she is proud of all she has accomplished so far, she is ready to compete again next year at California Trail Middle School.
“I love competing and I love being a part of CTMS,” she said. “Everyone, including all of the adults, are super supportive of you, no matter what you want to do. When I told my teachers about the event I was putting on, they were so proud of me and kept encouraging me to keep at it. I feel very thankful that they continue to teach and encourage us to do what we love.”
Graduate Believes Good Leadership is Key
Miles Swaminathan graduated from Olathe Northwest High School with confidence in his #OPSMyFuture, leading him to pursue Piano Performance at Indiana University in the fall. Although piano is his passion, Swaminathan explored leadership opportunities in both the Engineering Academy and his extracurriculars.
“I knew that regardless of what I do, I wanted to be a good leader,” Swaminathan said. “Being in certain groups like Raven Flight Corps, LINK Crew, and Sources of Strength really made me think about what that looks like. I wanted to learn what it entails to be someone that not only guides people and serves the community, but also takes charge and accountability.”
Raven Flight Corps is made up of student leaders, while LINK Crew members mentor freshman, and Sources of Strength members focus on mental health. Through these groups, Swaminathan built confidence in his leadership abilities.
“One of the things we need more in this world is leaders acting as a beacon of light to help others that need support and guidance,” Swaminathan said. “My freshman year, I struggled a little bit. And I began to thrive because of my LINK Crew leaders who helped point me in the right direction and encouraged me to do good in my community. I wanted to do that for others.”
Swaminathan also credits all his teachers, especially his Engineering Academy facilitators, for showing him he could combine his leadership skills and academic skills to serve his community.
“One of the things that brings joy to my life, aside from music, is the knowledge and experience that I have gained from the Engineering Academy,” Swaminathan said. “I want to use my brain for good. And the Engineer a Better World Capstone gave me the platform to do so.”
Swaminathan was awarded the National 1st Place Winner in the International Technology and Engineering Educators’ Association Reach Challenge for an ergonomic utensil device that allows an individual to gain the independence of feeding themselves.
“Even though I loved every experience in high school, the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done was being able to create that device for a student to help her eat on her own,” he said. “When we brought it over, she figured out how to use it quickly and she was super excited. It brought tears to everyone’s eyes in the room.”
Swaminathan leaves Olathe Northwest with several achievements, including the Faculty Award as well as various national and local scholarship awards. But most importantly, Swaminathan leaves Olathe Northwest a better place due to his commitment to servant leadership.
(Photo: Miles Swaminathan at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the Kansas City Symphony Young Artist Competition.)
Northwest Grad has Eye for Design
Olathe Northwest High School 2022 graduate Janine Fuhrman first discovered her passion for art in the hallways of Woodland Elementary School and Santa Fe Trail Middle School. She went on to a part of the e-Communication Academy (or “family” in Fuhrman’s words), specializing in Graphic Design.
However, Fuhrman found out she could do what she loved for a living when Graphic Design facilitator Jennifer Zimmerli encouraged her to intern with the Olathe Public Schools Graphics Communications department under the leadership of manager Erica Derrington.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school and I didn’t think I wanted to do more school but doing the graphic design classes and internship completely changed my mind,” Fuhrman said.
Fuhrman worked closely with graphic designers Curt Fehr and Melissa Beaudoin and impressed them with an eye for design and market value skills.
“Janine has been such a delight to work with this semester. She's really become part of our design team and has experienced great growth in her office and design skills,” Derrington said. “We've given her opportunities to work directly with customers on projects and watch the print process to complete their requests. She is insightful, observant and will be missed. We wish her the best of luck!”
Fuhrman loved her mornings in the Graphics department, where learning came to life. Her favorite projects included elementary musical programs, yard signs, district program planning guides, district calendar designs, and banners that hung in elementary school hallways welcoming new kindergartners.
“In class and my internship, I got so much more hands-on learning that actually affects real-life clients,” Fuhrman said. “I was working directly with clients on their vision and on their deadline. It must be perfect and to their liking. I loved the challenge of that, and it was the first time I looked up and realized I could really do this.”
In May, her hard work paid off when she was named a CTE Scholar, awarding her a full-ride scholarship to Johnson County Community College for two years, which covers tuition and books. Fuhrman was encouraged by Zimmerli to apply.
“Ms. Zimmerli has impacted my life so much. You can talk to her like she’s a mom and she’ll help you and encourage you not to give up,” Fuhrman said. “Erica was looking out for me too. She also told me about a $1,000 scholarship at the Olathe Optimist’s Club and I ended up winning that too. I’ll be able to attend junior college for free because of these two women who believed in me.”
Since she could pick up a crayon, Fuhrman has loved the opportunity to be creative. Now, because of her talent and support from Olathe Public Schools staff members, Fuhrman is more confident in her #OPSMyFuture.
(Photo: Fuhrman holds some of the projects she has completed for the OPS staff.)
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.)