DHS students' efforts showcase school, community

Dec. 31—DANVILLE — A group of Danville High School students hope their community service projects and weekly podcast help cast a positive light on their school, its students and the community as a whole.

Concerned about the teacher shortage at their school — which stems from a national shortage of teachers that started several years ago — DHS' Future Problem Solvers decided to highlight the positives at their school and in the community as a way to encourage people to consider teaching at their school.

"We want to uplift the image of Danville and Danville High School," FPS member and DHS junior Isaiah Easton said.

The FPS team, whose members range from freshmen to seniors, launched Project LENS (Locally Elevating Our Neighborhood and Schools) as their project this school year. They will submit their project in February to be judged during a Future Problem Solvers state competition.

"They wanted to address the teacher shortage issue, and they wanted to show the school in a positive light," said DHS history teacher Lori Woods, who has sponsored Future Problem Solvers — first at North Ridge Middle School and now at the high school — for about 15 years. "The teacher shortage is not just affecting Danville; it's a national issue."

The students kicked off Project LENS earlier this school year by showing appreciation to DHS staff, custodians and bus drivers.

During a Bus Blitz in October, the Future Problems Solvers made key chains and treat bags that they distributed after school to the bus drivers to show their appreciation. It was during this activity that the students made their first TikTok.

The teens also showed appreciation to DHS staff and the custodians. During parent-teacher conferences this fall, the FPS team created a snack bar with candy, chips and bottled water and, with the help of the DHS student council, provided sandwich trays, fruit and cupcakes for the teachers who stayed at the school from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. to meet with parents.

"We brought the teachers food during the parent-teacher conferences because they don't get to go home until late," FPS member and DHS senior Simone Atkinson said.

While supporting the DHS staff, the FPS team took care of one of their own and participated in a month-long fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

"We have an FPS member who has been getting treatment at St. Jude," Isaiah said. "All the FPS members walked 60 miles in a month, and we had other students and adults do it, too."

The FPS team also was involved during the Festival of Trees by decorating a tree they named the "Belle of the Ball."

"The body of the tree was a dress," Isaiah explained.

A gingerbread village that the FPS team created with the DHS student council earned them a first-place blue ribbon during the Festival of Trees.

In another show of appreciation, FPS members organized, decorated and hosted close to 90 retired teachers from around Vermilion County at a Dec. 2 luncheon at the Hegeler Mansion.

"The Hegeler Mansion was trying out if they could have events there, and we were the first ones," Woods said. "The kids figured out a budget and got it all organized.

"The kids designed the centerpieces from poinsettias, decorated with ribbons down the tables and made the dessert trays," she added.

A special touch was the charcuterie cups — filled with snack-size crackers, meats, cheeses and grapes — that the students assembled and placed at each place setting.

"We wanted to show appreciation to our retired teachers," Simone said.

The day before winter break, the FPS team was back out in the community and made its second annual holiday visit with the veterans who live at Cannon Place apartments on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Illiana Healthcare System.

"We've been pretty successful in getting the community members to come out of their apartments," Isaiah said. "A lot of them are happy to see us."

Fellow FPS member and DHS junior Cameron Feuerborn agreed. "People know what we did last year, and they're coming out and enjoying this."

Similar to last year's inaugural event at Cannon Place, the students set up a coffee bar with baked goods and played games with the veterans as well as refilled the supply closets in the common area of the apartment building.

The most significant part of Project LENS, however, is the students' weekly podcast every Tuesday morning sponsored by Neuhoff Media. Recordings of past podcasts can be found online at Vermilion County First.

"Every week they discuss different topics such as mental health issues, legislation affecting education, and housing affecting the whole county," Woods said, adding, "It's hard to come up with something to talk about every week."

"Sometimes we'll pull in a guest speaker," Isaiah said.

The podcast has featured DHS Principal Tracy Cherry, incoming DHS Principal Jacob Bretz, and recent DHS and FPS alums who have talked about their college and military experience.

During the podcast, a BOB — or Best of Best — Award is announced for a DHS student or staff member, according to FPS member and DHS junior Ethan Fox.

Next up is the Vermilion County Youth Leadership Conference on Jan. 23 at Danville Area Community College during which high school students from all over Vermilion County will discuss relevant topics. A smaller youth leadership conference also will take place for Kenneth D. Bailey Academy and North Ridge Middle School students.

Community members can follow all of the Future Problem Solvers' positive efforts throughout the school year on social media platforms including Tik Tok and Facebook.

"We want to set an example for other communities because we're not the only community suffering from a teacher shortage," Isaiah said.

FPS member and DHS senior Audriana Alvarez agreed. "We want to bring appreciation to our teachers and encourage people to become teachers because of the shortage."