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Gig Harbor High School Passion Projects

Students bring about positive change through Passion Projects

By Rachel Kelly

Passion Projects

“As a GHHS English 131 teacher, I wanted to make not only their writing more meaningful, but I wanted to make their writing matter,” says Karen Kennedy, a Gig Harbor High School teacher who has assigned Passion Projects to her students this year. A Passion Project is an individual assignment that represents each student's independent passions, goals, values and interests. As the name suggests, the project mirrors each student's passion. These projects are meant to inspire and excite, which for many is exactly the result. Students feel genuine joy as they go about producing their Passion Project, projects which range as widely as the individuals they represent.

The details of each student’s project have culminated in the development of valuable skills—from communication skills such as filming and presenting elevator pitches to creative problem-solving skills. Each student is responsible for an action plan to bring their vision to life. This means that they tap into their creative side, as well as improve their confidence. They build joy as they see their passion come to life and get firsthand experience in what previously they only imagined. It’s real-life action and innovation. There are 33 projects in total, each project with one or two students. Each team or student has found something in the community that they would like to see change or progress in. As you can imagine, with so many students and projects, the impact is large.

So, without further ado, here’s how these Passion Projects are impacting Gig Harbor. Several students have passions for health care. Alexa Donion is making cards for kids in long-term care facilities, and Skyler Kimble is initiating a park day where the community can make cards for hospitalized children. Miko Sandoval and Shan Rahman are improving mental health by passing on positive notes made by and delivered randomly to people around the harbor. David Hopkins is passionate about making his community aware of mental illness and is encouraging kindness and empathy. Paige Gladstone and Emily Trader are implementing a fundraiser with funds going to Project Sunshine. Their efforts also include putting together donation kits. Kaiser Keck, Carlos Rivas and Connor Louden are organizing a free dental screening and care event at Wright’s Park.

A number of high school students had a passion and focus on food and housing insecurities in the community. Ben Hulbert recognized the need for toiletries at local food banks and has decided to collect donations of these much-needed items. Zola Thomas’ focus on the food bank has to do with the female population. She hopes to address period poverty by collecting donations of period products for the local pantry. George Cox built a food pantry, which he will stock with donations. Sienna Bennett, Caroline Gregory and Taya Strauss are focusing on homelessness and will be collecting and distributing donations. Taya Strauss has focused her lens specifically on teen homelessness and is working with Harbor Hope Center.

Several more students have passions in various areas of education. Anna Schumaker and Malia Fraser have recognized the need for technology in schools (especially during the pandemic) and are collecting tech from businesses for local students in need. Trilby Hellwich has recognized the need for education as it relates to girls in countries with limited education and has aligned herself with the Malala Fund to collect donations. Aubrey Kelly, Jackson Floyd and Trevor Hellwich believe in the power of music and will be putting on a benefit concert to raise money for music therapy.

Various students have aligned themselves with passions that focus on practical community need. Nolan Howard is collecting gently used sports equipment to make participation in youth sports more accessible. Izzy Stretz, Megan Mackay and Melissa Enriquez are looking to gather supplies and funds for the local Humane Shelter. David Ficca is building a flag retirement station so that U.S. flags can be respectfully disposed of. Zach Coons has put together a compelling case for the need for vaccination, encouraging his peers and community to get vaccinated. Nora Poulton is convincing her community not to text and drive. Sunny Tian is lobbying to repair and make safe community walkways. Alexander Fernandez, London Coats and Bradley Matalon are passionate about the environment and are encouraging others to clean up our community and beaches.

Lastly, there are those students who are interested in improving the lives of specific people groups. Tia Berry has a heart for children and is collecting funds for the distribution of gifts to children who go without during Christmas. Molly Home is passionate about opportunities available to youth and is encouraging support of the Coffee Oasis in Port Orchard. Ella Hatteberg, Seth Maherry and Will Payne are sending a message of hope to those that suffer from domestic violence. Jak McLellan, Isaac Gary, Cole Rushforth and Luke Miller are volunteering at Night to Shine (a prom night that honors those with special needs) and plan on volunteering in the Special Olympics.

Through each Passion Project, students are discovering that they are a conduit for positive change in our community. In this way they remind us of our own responsibility, our own impact, and for that the community is so glad to have these students to call their own. May they bring that passion and confidence with them wherever they may go.

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