MFL MarMac MORE projects facilitate school improvements

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Micheal Balster and other students in MFL MarMac’s MORE authentic learning class shared their projects during a recent open house. Balster created the Bulldog Brew school coffee shop. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


From a student-run coffee shop and modernizations in the school business office to updates in the school courtyard and weight room, students in MFL MarMac High School’s MORE authentic learning class tackled another round of projects that have helped them grow both personally and professionally.


Now in its third semester, the class launched last spring to offer high school students more real-world experiences through community partnerships.


Seniors Will Koether and Hunter Meyer partnered to revamp the Monona Center courtyard. With guidance from Outdoor Creations, Meyer is working to fill in the pond, and Wildwood Tree Service will help trim trees that have overtaken the space and created a hazard. Koether even wrote a $1,000 grant through the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque for the latter. 


Koether’s focus has been on improving current pollinator habitat along with adding more.


“I got in touch with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and we have a landowner agreement. For the next 10 years, it’s going to be pollinator habitat. They’re shipping me plants,” and in addition to plants already started in the greenhouse, will be planted soon, said Koether. “It will be good for bees and hopefully provide sustainability and education on conservation for teachers and students.”


That ties directly into Koether’s conservation career plans and helped him land a job with Clayton County Conservation this summer.


Other benefits included communication.


“Usually, when I work on projects, I’m very independent. Being in a partnership with Hunter, I had to improve communication and telling him what my plan was, and also delegating tasks,” Koether shared.


Thanks to the project, Meyer has become reaching out to business professionals and asking for help.


“I also realized how much preparation has to go into something before you can physically change it,” Meyer added.


Those behind-the-scenes details were also new to junior Wyatt Powell, who partnered with senior Karter Decker to spearhead a gateway entrance and improved lighting between the baseball field and football field/track. The school board has already approved the lighting.


“Two weeks ago, Karter and I and [superintendent] Dr. Crozier met with an architect and learned so much about what has to go into lighting and the entrance. How much money had to go into it. We learned about sealed bids—staying under a certain square footage so it doesn’t have to go to sealed bid,” Powell said.


This was the second MORE project for Powell, who last semester worked on creating a traveling Upper Iowa Conference champion trophy for boys basketball. He said the reception was positive at a February athletic directors meeting, and there is interest in creating trophies for other sports too.


Powell is unsure if he’ll enroll in MORE again next year, but is hopeful other students will take interest in the project. He’s also excited about the opportunity to leave his legacy after graduation.


“I want the gateway entrance to go through. It would be cool to have a part in doing that,” he said.


Senior Cole Allert added nearly $20,000 of new equipment—three treadmills, a rower machine and a multi-functional cable machine—to the high school weight room.


Allert said this is the first time in 20 years the weight room has had such revisions.


“It definitely needed it, and it needs more than that, but hopefully someone will pick up after me,” he shared.  


According to Allert, the project helped him learn more about budgeting.


“It was difficult at first. I tried going to some gyms that have closed down recently, but I ended up finding a sales representative out of Raleigh, N.C. I’m getting it ordered this week and it will be in this summer,” he said.


Following the chain of command is important too, noted Allert.


“You have to talk to administration and the sales reps and find different brands and quotes. It seems easy, but it opened my eyes to how much work goes into it,” he said.


A project in the school business office gave senior Corbin McElwaine insight into day-to-day operations as well as business “logo,” all of which he said will be helpful as he pursues a career in business.


His project involved transitioning the school from paper documents for leave requests to an online system. 


“The business office would get stacks of paper every single day of leave requests, and it would have to go to the principal and back to the business office, then to the superintendent. That leaves a lot of room for error, a lot of chance to lose it, then the teacher doesn’t get the day off,” McElwaine explained. With help from another student, “Our job was to push it out and train the staff how to use this online program so everything could be more modern and accessible for teachers. Next year, the school will use this program and completely get rid of the paper trails. It modernizes the whole process.”


Another student who gained valuable career experience was senior Micheal Balster, who created a coffee shop within the school called the Bulldog Brew. The idea came from a previous MORE student, and was one he was happy to scoop up due to his goal to one day run a cafe.


“I felt like the stars aligned,” he said.


Balster credited Central student Hailey Frieden, who helps run Central Perk at that school, for advising him on coffee shop management and budgeting. She also put him in touch with Mike McShane, owner of GEAR Elkader. McShane introduced Balster to the website Webstaurant, through which the Bulldog Brew purchased many of its supplies.


“We hit it off really well and I went there for a job shadow. He showed me how to make everything and gave me a good roster of things,” Balster shared.


Along with budgeting, Balster said he learned the importance of having a to-do list. Take inventory and make sure everyone has tasks to do.


“It’s also important to make sure your employees are happy,” Balster stressed.


Although he’s a senior, Balster is excited the Bulldog Brew will live on through a group of juniors who are taking over management. They helped him get it up and running, so he’s confident of their success.


“I can foresee really great things coming from them. They are creative individuals and hard working,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without them.”

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