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Prospect's URise students swing into action for Sunrise Lake Outdoor Education Center

Published June 3, 2024

In a world with ever-increasing speed, immediacy and instant gratification, the value of the process, working towards a goal over a long period of time, can get lost. For students who have spent most of their lives living and working at a breakneck pace, many do not get the opportunity to learn the payoff that comes with patience.

However, the power of the process was the central lesson learned by students in the URise program at Prospect High School while completing a service learning project for Sunrise Lake Outdoor Education Center over the past five months. The URise program supports students with disabilities in reaching their highest individual levels of independence through academics, preparing them with skills for the transition to postsecondary life while attending their home high school. As part of the students’ curriculum this past semester, URise students helped build porch swings for Sunrise Lake Outdoor Education Center. 

“Our program focuses on academics matched to students' individual levels, along with independent living and vocational skills,” Special Education Teacher Kathleen Rafferty said. “This was a perfect project to encompass all of those things. It encompasses the functional academic side of what we’re working on here in this program.”

URise students visit Sunrise Lake once a month for outdoor education, team building and learning other vocational skills. In the fall, students worked with staff at Sunrise Lake to build birdhouses as an initial service learning project, introducing them to the basics of woodworking. After this experience, the Sunrise Lake staff was hoping the students and Prospect staff were up for a greater challenge.

“They did such a fantastic job with the woodworking and the staff were so supportive throughout the lesson,” Sunrise Lake Teacher Derek Honcoop said. “We started to wonder if we should extend their learning and turn those skills learned into a service project where students could work on it a little each visit for the remainder of the school year. The porch swings were an ambitious goal, but the students rose to the challenge.”

The project was a highlight of the year for students, which Rafferty suspected while the project was being worked on but did not realize the true impact it had on her students until it was over. Since high schoolers are not typically eager to share details of their daily classroom activities with their parents or guardians, especially students who have trouble communicating in general, Rafferty often sends updates to parents so they have a better idea of what their students are learning. When Rafferty sent a message when the project was complete, she received a response from the mother of Prospect junior Cameron Lobacz telling her that her update may not have been necessary because Lobacz would come home raving about the progress they were making. 

Receiving this message really put the project in perspective for Rafferty, “What other times in her life is she going to have the exposure of being part of a project from the beginning, with literal boards, to the final product?”

It was certainly a project URise students will remember for a long time. “I feel happy that we made the new swings at Sunrise because we made them ourselves by using wood, hammers, nails,” Lobacz said.

“It was cool to sit in the swing with my friends when it was done,” Prospect senior Henry Romberg said.

The greatest thing Rafferty believes students gained from the experience was the patience and payoff that comes with a long-term project like this one.

“Everything happens so fast today,” Rafferty said. “You want something, Amazon can deliver it tomorrow. If you’re hungry, you don’t have to go to the grocery store, you can order something. So I think seeing the whole process was just really good for our kids… They worked on it slowly over the course of five months. What they produced was amazing.”

The URise program and Sunset Lake will look to engage in a new service learning project together in the fall with the hopes of creating another experience that will have a lasting impact on the students.