A lot of people are interested in a lot of things.
And at schools these days, even at the high school level, there are increasingly more options for students to be interested in.
But it takes more than a little bit of interest and some options to reach the level of involvement that a special few reach at MHS, including juniors Jack Sampson and Grace Schillewaert. The juniors have a wide-ranging reach at the high school that comes from being involved with events that run the gambit from sports to business to academics to music to business.
And they aren’t just in a lot of things. They’re passionate about the things that they’re in. It’s that passion, drive, and their continued efforts to make Monticello High School a better place, that helped get them selected as the Monticello recipients of the ExCEL Award.
ExCEL stands for Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership. The award is a Minnesota State High School League honor, and the MSHSL Web Site describes the award as such: “[The ExCEL Award] is a unique recognition program designed exclusively for Minnesota high school juniors who are active in school activities, who show leadership qualities, and who work voluntarily in their community.”
Gary Revenig, athletic director at MHS, said that both Sampson and Schillewaert make the kind of impact at MHS that deserved to be honored.
“They are two great representatives for our school,” he said. “They’re both leaders in their class, they both excel academically, they’re involved, and they’re just outstanding kids that deserve the recognition.”
Jack Sampson both dives and swims for the Magic boys varsity squad. That combination is rare, and a perfect microcosm of what Sampson brings to the table at MHS – the ability to succeed in many areas.
Sampson is one of the most successful students in his grade, while balancing a busy schedule of sports, mixing in some music and finding ways to get involved around the school and community to better the life and experiences of others.
The junior swims, dives, and plays tennis. He plays in the band, wind ensemble, and pep band. He’s been a student of the month at MHS, is a two-year National Honor Society member, and a member of the Math Team. And he’s a peer mentor in the Ninth Grade Mentorship Program at MHS.
In addition, outside of MHS, Sampson has spent time during his high school career as a Sunday School Teacher, Vacation Bible School Leader and a Youth Swimming Volunteer.
No matter how long the list of activities grows, he said the number one priority stays clear. Academics.
“That’s what’s going to affect me most for the rest of my life” he said.
Recently, it’s become more than just work and something that has to be done. Sampson said this school year he has really learned to appreciate, and even enjoy, the classroom.
And that’s despite a class load that includes a number of college-level and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
“I really look forward to learning new topics [now], especially things like math and physics. All these really interesting things,” said Sampson. “It’s just been a whole ton of fun to actually learn about things and understand the world in different ways.”
He seems to enjoy every other part of his schedule too, even if it means not getting home until 6 or 6:30 most nights, and still having one to two hours of school work to do, not to mention eating dinner and maybe finding some extra study time.
Benefits include interacting with more people, seeing progress and change, and even learning time management skills at a much younger age than most.
Sampson said he’s met a lot of new people he otherwise wouldn’t have, especially through the mentorship program that brought upperclassmen together with ninth graders to help ease their transition into the high school.
“It’s definitely cool to see more of the community, see more of the students, understand more about them, learn more about them,” he said. “You see he likes to do this, and he likes to do that. That’s just great to see all these different people, and interacting with them and being friends with them.”
Getting to know his fellow students better has also afforded him the opportunity to watch and notice their growth, right alongside his own. Particularly in the band room and math classroom.
“Band has really been enjoyable. That’s been great to see how everybody progresses, and enjoys the music more,” he said. “[And in] math. In the beginning you barely can figure out what these small equations are and by the end of it those tiny equations you struggled for years with are what you do 20 times to solve a different problem.”
While being involved in so many different areas of the school can surely bring its challenges (finding time to sleep, for one), it provides a lot of benefits as well. Sampson said he’s learned to take lessons from one venture and apply them to another.
“When you have a diving meet and you’re up on the board and everyone’s watching you and it’s just silent … that’s really stressful,” he said. “But once you get through that, when you go back to a class you gotta give a speech or something, you don’t care nearly as much, you’re much calmer, you know exactly what you gotta do. That just helps a lot.”
Sampson, who is the son of John and Kari Sampson, said he, and all students, really benefit from the great teachers and coaches at MHS.
“All the teachers, all the coaches, they help in ways you don’t even understand,” he said. “Everyone helps in those little ways, that really add up.”
And likewise, teachers have certainly noticed Sampson. Nate Russell, an English teacher at MHS, submitted a letter of recommendation for the ExCEL Award. Russell said Sampson has his class first hour and is, almost without fail, working on homework in the English pod before class starts every day. Recently, Sampson was gathered with a group of students, studying vocabulary for an upcoming quiz. Russell said in the letter he had no doubt Sampson was the catalyst for that session.
Russell wrote: “Overall, I find Jack to be a paragon of an ideal student: courteous, intelligent, and hard-working, someone who sets a strong example that others follow.”
It is that example, and the commitment that Sampson has shown to making MHS a better place, that helped make him an ExCEL Award winner. And Sampson said it’s quite an honor to be that.
“I think it’s pretty cool to be recognized for all the different things you have to do,” he said. “High school obviously isn’t just about grades. To be recognized for doing all of these different things on top of good school work is pretty cool.”
Schillewaert may have the single longest ExCEL form in the award’s history. At least amongst Monticello students. Her list of activities alone takes up more than two pages.
Revenig said that no matter which committee or group is being discussed at Monticello, “it seems like her name comes up all the time.”
Schillewaert holds a 4.0 Grade Point Average, is a member of Wind Ensemble, Pit Orchestra, Pep Band, and a three-time member of the Central Minnesota Band Directors Association Honor Band, and is a successful athlete, playing both tennis and track and field. But where she really shines, even beyond those impressive marks, is in community service and leadership roles.
The junior at Monticello is involved with a number of clubs, some of which she started with during freshman year and others she’s joined more recently. The clubs include, but are hardly limited to, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Project 4 Teens, National Honors Society, Interact Club, Peer Mentor Program, Student Council, and DECA. Outside of MHS, she volunteers at a number of places around the community, including the Monticello Library, St. Benedict’s Senior Center, Feed My Starving Children and at the annual Breakfast with the Bunny.
Just showing up to all of those clubs and volunteering opportunities would be a feat to marvel at. But Schillewaert doesn’t stop there. She’s seen as a leader at MHS, and for good reason. In the Interact Club, she is the head of the student relief fund creation. She works as a School Board Representative for MHS, the only junior to do so. She’s helped bring changes to MHS, including a college acceptance letter wall that is in the works. And she started DECA, a program meant to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges, at Monticello. There are already 45 students enrolled in the program, of which she serves as the president. Quite a list, to say the least.
Schillewaert says that academics are still the priority. But it’s clear that the passion is there for a large number, if not all, of her endeavors.
How else could you continue to push through on just five to six hours of sleep per night?
“You get used to it after a while,” said Schillewaert, with a laugh.
One of the biggest keys to doing it all is time management, something she says she learned early.
“I get home from practice, or school, and I start doing my homework right away,” she said. “When you’re doing this much stuff you really have to learn to prioritize, or you get behind really fast.”
If time management helps explain how she does it, a look at what she enjoys may help to explain why she does it.
“For me, it’s definitely the people,” said Schillewaert. “I just really enjoy seeing all the people every day. Friends, teachers, students you don’t know.”
Schillewaert, who likely connects to 90 percent of the student body through one outlet or another, is also driven by a desire to make Monticello High School a special place. The junior went to a leadership conference, where they asked students what makes their high school special.
“All throughout the auditorium it was quiet,” she said. “No one really knows.”
She knew then that she wanted to give the Magic student body answers to that question.
One of the projects she has gotten behind is the college acceptance letter wall, which is in the final stages of being approved and will offer a spot for students to bring in acceptance letters from college, ROTC, etc. and display them proudly for all students to see.
“[I want to make] Monticello a step above the rest,” she said. “The college acceptance letter wall is a great start.”
She was also the driving force in bringing in DECA, a program that has opened up opportunities never before available at MHS.
In just a semester’s time, she is already starting to see the rewards of her hard work in making the program available.
“To see these students go out and do things in business and enjoy something they haven’t been able to before and learn something about themselves too, that’s always really cool,” she said.
Perhaps most amazing is that Schillewaert, daughter of Brad and Gina, is only 2.5 years into her four year career at MHS. She already has several other ideas in the works, of things she’d like to see happen at MHS, including painted individual parking spots. She’s also working, through Rotary, on a sock drive this spring that will coincide with the annual Monticello Fish Fry. And she’s got a lot of help, to be sure. The junior pointed out how helpful administration has been with each of her ventures, and discussed how many other incredible students are at MHS, something that made her very proud to be the recipient of the 2016-17 ExCEL Award.
“There are so many students that are doing great things in our school. To get chosen out of everyone else, that is really cool,” she said. “Just an honor.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]