An Ottawa High School senior’s English 12 project may turn into a career of helping children cope with parents’ drug addiction.

When Saydie Emperley was growing up, her mother was addicted to drugs.

“When I was little, I did not understand it,” Emperley said. “She hurt us kids so much because she acted like she did not want to have anything to do with us. My whole life was like this way.”

Emperley spent time in therapy to help her cope with her mother’s addiction.

“I want to help kids the way no one was able to help me,” she said. “There are many different ways [to cope].”

Emperley and senior students in Jennifer Kane’s English 12 class were assigned a project on a subject they are passionate about. For Emperley, this was an easy choice. She is in the process of building a website listing options for drug treatment along with therapists, her story, and other pertinent information.

“Ms. Kane had people come talk to us about our passion,” Emperley said. “This is something I am really passionate about. I had to go to a therapist when I was little to cope with my mom being on drugs. This is the first thing that came to mind. I did not know how I was going to do it yet. A website would definitely be more impactful. They can go look that up. They can ask me any questions. I am completely open about it because my mom is clean. When she was addicted, it definitely was harder to talk about. She has overcome it. She is nine months clean and it means a lot to me.”

Emperley’s plan is to become a child psychologist.

“I want to help people,” she said. “They did not help me realize that sooner or later she will come back. I am happy to have this opportunity to make this website to help other people.”

20 Time Project

This is the fourth year Kane’s students have participated in the 20 Time Project. Kane said the project requires identifying something they are passionate about or interested in and using that to impact others.

“This is a real world experience,” Kane said. “It is exciting and scary at the same time -- exciting to watch them pursue something and own their learning; understand what it means to be a lifelong learner. That is the goal in this. Learning is a process. It’s scary at times because you want it to go well. You don’t always have control.”

The project is more than a class assignment for students, who are entering the adult world after May’s graduation.

“It is their culminating [project] before they head out into the world,” Kane said. “It is fun to watch them and their excitement as they really invest and start getting into it. They learn valuable lessons about communication, planning, organization and follow through. The emphasis is placed on what they learn along the way. Students learn how to persevere when things don’t go as planned. 20 Time allows students to ask questions, take risks and even ‘fail’ or make mistakes in a safe environment. In this process, students learn invaluable, essential skills for life.”

Students presented their projects to community members last week. Kane said giving a presentation helps with their interpersonal communication skills.

“You can text all you want, but to be able to look somebody in the eye and explain what you are thinking and the process,” Kane said. “Holding conversation is a critical skill. It is about engaging with community members and being able to ask how they possibly can help you.”

Learning to adapt

The projects ranged from making a grill and smoker, which will be rented to generate funds for FFA, how to quilt and weld, creating an app for teens on budgeting money and partnering with Prairie Paws, a local animal shelter, to help with their donations.

“It is trying to let them understand that learning is not one thing or one project,” Kane said. “It is working with others and putting a lot of pieces together. They had to do research and do hands-on work. They have had to talk with others, write and take pictures. The importance of learning is not a one time specific thing. It takes place over and over every day.”

Ashley Collins and Randee Huggard combined on a project for the animal shelter.

“It was difficult because we were not sure how we were going to start everything,” Collins said. “Not everything worked out like it is supposed to. “You have to overcome [problems]. We expected more donations. We ended up getting a cash donation which helped us out a lot. We learned to adapt and overcome difficulties.”

Collins made a dozen blankets and Huggard crocheted cat toys and blankets. They bought cleaning and pet supplies with the cash donations.

“I really like giving back to the community,” Collins said. “They run off donations. It feels good to help them out for all they do for the community.”

Collins said this was a worthwhile project for all the students.

“It was a good experience to think [things] through, plan it, and think how do we need to do it to make it successful,” Collins said. “All the projects she has given us makes us think and apply ourselves.”

Samantha Atchley is developing an money-budgeting app. She said developing the app takes time and research.

“Through the process, I have been watching videos on how to develop an app and program it on the computer,” Atchley said. “I don’t have the correct computer to do it now. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to. I have the design how I want the app to look like. My next step will be to when I am able to purchase the computer, to actually develop it. It is a work in progress.”

Kane said 20 Time Projects is learning to make adjustments and not giving up.

“Don’t say you failed,” Kane said. “Figure it out and find another way. Learn how to pick yourself back up. Watching what kids come up with is great.”