Kohl Scholarships: Denmark Initiative

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Samantha George

George enjoys spending her time outdoors, ranking Fonferek’s Glen and the Devils River Trail among two of her favorite non-Badlands hiking spots. Oh yeah, and the nature trails of UW-Green Bay.

“I love UWGB because it’s just full forest,” she says, marking the trails and the university’s environmental science reputation as large reasons for her decision to pursue a Ecology and Conservation degree there.

She doesn’t begin classes there until next fall, but one could say she has already made a second home on campus.

“Last weekend I was out at UWGB on the trails,” she says. “I went out there and just made a tree fort. It was pretty fun.”

Through an apprenticeship with Aurora’s Apothecary in Appleton, George has become immersed in how different plants and herbs can be used for a full bloom of purposes. It’s not the mainstays of herbalism that necessarily draw her attention; she sees utility in what is often overlooked.

“I like using more weeds, like dandelions or plantains. Just random stuff that you can find anywhere because it’s the most abundant stuff and there’s so many uses for these things,” she says.

Already keen with crafting helpful salves, tinctures, and various teas, she is set to work for Aurora’s this summer at area farmer’s markets and in the garden, excited to soak up whatever knowledge she can. It wasn’t until halfway through high school, though, that she looked to learning with love.

“My mom had moved to Oconto,” the summer before her junior year, “I’ve been going to Denmark since kindergarten, so I didn’t want to move. She was not going to be able to bring me to school every day, so I had to figure out my own way,” George says.

“I kind of learned responsibility for myself and how to take care of myself; to buy groceries, to do laundry, financial stuff… I think that kind of helped with school because I realized I want to do good for myself and I realized that I really wanted to go to college at the beginning of my junior year,” she says.

It’s hard to describe what it felt like when learning began to seem worthwhile; fun or interesting, even.

“I realized there’s so much out there. I don’t’ know how to explain the feeling—once you get the feeling that you want to learn, it’s just like…butterflies in your stomach,” George recalls, struggling for adjectives.

She credits her then-budding relationship with her now-boyfriend in part with igniting her passion for learning. His parents—who have provided a home—she credits for nurturing the flame.

“They’re so nice. I love them so much. They’re extremely supportive and are so lovely. They support me in every way,” she says.

That support and George’s own determination culminated in her best-ever academic performance this school year, achieving a GPA exceeding 4.0 and being accepted to college. Earlier this year, she had an unexpected visit to the office of Principal Oran Nehls.

“I got called down to [Nehls’] office and there were two other counselors,” George says. “He said, ‘So I hear you want to go to college.’”

After George explained her career goals and assured the principal of her determination, he asked what her struggles would be in getting to her post-secondary destination.

“Obviously money. Money’s the hardest thing to do,” says George, who is facing school financing on her own with no Expected Family Contribution to report for federal student aid.

She remembers her principal saying, “Well I have a few scholarships I get to hand out every year, and we only want to give them to people who want to do it and are obligated to go to college.”

By the next class bell, George was again called down to the principal’s office, Nehls holding a vital message.

“’Congratulations! You earned a $10,000 scholarship’,” George pantomimes. “I had no idea that was happening. It was really cool.”

Her upcoming summer is still set to include, “lots of hours” working at McDonald’s and Aurora’s to continue building financial stability. The sum of the scholarship is spread over four years, which George says will be, “a really good knock-off. It’s definitely helpful.”

“There’s just a lot of really nice teachers who have been really supportive. Mr. Wetzel is definitely super supportive. He’s a very kind-hearted teacher. He was really there for me during some hard times,” she says in retrospect, “A few weeks ago he came up to me, gave me and hug and was like ‘Congratulations on winning that Herb Kohl scholarship!’ That is something to look up to.”

Samantha George is well-aware that her knowledge in botany, biology, and environmental conservation have leaps and bounds to go before she is satisfied—she’s already contemplating graduate school options.

She’s also keen on improving her herbalism expertise, which began on Saturday when she discovered soothing benefits from an Herb of which she had never heard.

 

Gregory Evans

For Gregory Evans, school was a conflicting experience. He felt unchallenged in his areas of strength and unmotivated to improve those of weakness. Able to consume books in a matter of hours, standard English literature units strained his patience.

“I would read [the assigned book] the first two days,” and then during the weeks of dedicated reading time he’d take out another book to meet the requirement of activity.

“But when it got to math class, it was things I thought were really easy, and then I’d get to the homework thinking I already knew all of it, so why should I do it,” he says of his sixth grade year.

In 2011, the Denmark Charter School transformed into the Denmark Community School, open for grades 7-12, and Evans was interested to see how a different environment could impact his academics.

He’s the last of DCS’ inaugural class and says the self-direction which the school’s emphasis on project-based learning empowers has suited his talents, complemented his interests, and given him confidence through leadership.

DCS now has annual class sizes over 30 students, after starting with just 15 when Evans enrolled which he views as validation for the program and an accurate disposal of negative connotations.

“It was nice to see that other people are seeing that this isn’t just for at-risk people…this school is not what you thought it would be. It’s learning what you think is really interesting, so you found a way to learn it yourself, and still meet all the state standards for it,” Evans says.

A self-described lover of the outdoors and bird enthusiast, Evans says he frequently enjoys the wooded river which runs through his backyard. Often he canoes up the water, though only about a mile or so until the water shallows.

“You get to see a lot of birds,” he says calmly of the terrain.

So, for one of his first DCS projects, he and his classmates built a collection of birdhouses and placed them in the Community Prairie just northeast of the elementary school. Some are still in storage, and another sits atop a cabinet in the school following repairs to a rotting roof.

He’s fascinated by the animal kingdom and has a deep-held appreciation for paleontology, but that majesty of life changed slightly in eighth grade: Briefly, Evans considered becoming a mortician.

“My reasoning behind it was, there’s always going to be people dying. So, I’d never run out of work,” he says with a tinge of self-ribbing. “I was a little morbid at the time.”

At the time, Evans was engrossed in a book—A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness—that seemed to understand him fully and helped him understand himself.

“It’s about a boy whose mother has cancer, and this monster is supposed to help him get through it without turning away from everyone he already knows. So, he’s stressed and all that, and the monster comes and start telling stories that don’t seem to have any correlation, but they are very powerful once they all fit together,” he says of the book which he’s read at least six times after a spat of family health concerns, including his mother, Teresa, being diagnosed with thyroid cancer during his eighth grade year.

“[The book] resonated with me because it was stress, and he lashed out…there were times where he was happy and he wanted to remember those times and didn’t want to accept the inevitable…that was…me and my mom…,” Evan says, remembering nights of uncertainty, anger, and tears.

Teresa had her thyroid removed and has not been re-diagnosed, but the brush with the inevitable has continued to influence Greg.

“I definitely thought it made me a bit more mature. I can kind of empathize with people now, and I couldn’t do that before…It helped me kind of realize that these are things that actually happen,” he says.

Out of the shadow of death and at the precipice of earning his diploma this June en route to UW-Stout, Evans is again focused on the beauty of life—and finding a way to replicate it.

“I’m very much into engineering and electrical engineering. I’m looking at drones and swarm technology. Biomimicry, it’s what I’m really interested in,” he says, then realizes the term may need explanation, “Making robots do what animals do.”

Earlier last week, Evans made his first campus visit to UW-Stout, whose open-form computer lab was a major draw.

“Even if [you’re] not an engineering major, and [you] can use it any time for whatever [you] want to. So…that was awesome, because I can have fun with their electronics,” the circuit board soldering hobbyist says with wide eyes.

A little while back at the start of the school day, Greg noticed his mother was in the room, but paid no special attention as she is oft a volunteer there. Teresa, unaware for what reason, had been asked to be at the school that morning by Ms. Dupke, lead teacher of DCS.

Casually, Dupke informed the room that she had submitted a nomination paper for Greg to the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.

As he remember it, Dupke slowly began the revealing sentence, “Aaaand, he got it. So, that’s a $10,000 scholarship.”

The entire class swiveled their eyes to Greg, sitting in the center and unaware if he had heard correctly.

“It was kind of…not out-of-body, but it was shocking. It was a big surprise when I got that,” he says.

Knowing she would see the day when her son when to college, Greg’s mother had justifiably blurred vision following Dupke’s announcement.

“I couldn’t believe it. Almost right away I was in the back crying, just so happy,” Teresa says. “This is such a big help. He’s such a smart kid, I know that he can do anything he puts his mind to.”

He’s anxious to get started with his college career and begin exploring his horizons outside of the Denmark area, but when looking back at his DCS career and the type of dedicated learner into which it helped him grow, he holds nothing but humility.

“I’m really thankful for my advisors for [nominating] me. They put in a paper about me saying all the good things that they thought I was,” he says reverentially. “It’s also really nice that they think of me beyond the classroom; that they think ‘Alright, he really deserves this.’”

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