Tip of the cap: Detroit Lakes seniors present semesters-long capstone projects

Seniors at Detroit Lakes High School presented their semesters-long capstone projects for the winter semester to family and friends at the Lakeshirts Fieldhouse on Jan. 9.

IMG_8302 (2).JPG
Trysten Schwarzrock, senior, explains how he was able to increase cellphone reception in the school basement during the winter capstone project presentation night at Detroit Lakes High School on Jan. 9, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — Is it possible to get 4 bars of cellphone service in the basement of a concrete high school?

How can I save over $1,000 per year on nail care?

Do plants in the classroom help with student mental health?

These are only a few of the questions Detroit Lakes seniors asked themselves at the start of the school year, and now, after eight to 14 weeks of research, problem-solving, and solution-creating, the students presented their findings to the public.

"Where ever you go, there will be a problem to solve ... all of (the students) will need problem-solving skills, they are going to need to do action research of some sort ... so, it's every kid," said Aaron Swenson, 21st Century Skills teacher at Detroit Lakes High School.


The capstone project at Detroit Lakes High School is part of the school's academy program for seniors and has important real-world lessons about identifying problems and coming up with solutions, which is something every student will be able to take with them to Harvard, or straight to work, if that's what they choose, he said.

More Local News:
Plow crews with the City of Detroit Lakes will be doing snow roll-up work on Thursday, March 23 from 12:01 a.m. until around 9 a.m.
Minnesota high school girls are wanted to take part in the statewide competition in St. Paul on June 17. The prize-winning competition is a nonpartisan, nonprofit project of Metro Republican Women.
In a separate case, a Detroit Lakes man is accused of selling 30 grams meth to confidential informant
During this time, there shall be no parking on any city street until the street has been completely cleared.

"(The problems and solutions) don't have to be Earth-shattering, or groundbreaking, it's just got to be community improving, and that's what we're trying to do," Swenson said.

Students were required to meet project benchmarks every week to show continual progress on their projects, and, as some students found out, he said, if they miss a benchmark, they don't go away, they start stacking up, which is comparable to real-world scenarios as well.

"They learn in a hurry that if you let this pile up, you are in deep trouble," said Swenson. "The majority learn in a couple weeks that you can't do that, and then pretty soon you get weekly, action-oriented tasks getting accomplished, and they show progress. And then, what that does is build confidence, and excitement, and energy, and they want to keep doing more and more."

This year, Detroit Lakes High School will be dividing its senior capstone presentation nights into two separate events. Seniors completing the project during the spring semester will present at the end of the school year in May.

Trysten Schwarzrock, senior, said he found a $500 solution to extend cellphone service into the basement of the concrete-walled high school and he turned a cellphone blackout area of campus into a service area with up to four bars of cell service.

"I bought a cell tower range extender," said Schwarzrock. He explained the extender antenna was mounted near a school window and aimed at the nearest cell tower. Then, a wire is run from the antenna and dropped near the school's media center in the basement, where the extender's input relays the antenna-directed signal.

"In the basement, concrete all around, there is no signal at all, you lose all reception," he said. "You can now get up to four bars down there."


Schwarzrock described the research he conducted surrounding cellphone signals as "long and grueling," but also said he was happy to find a $500 solution when some extenders can cost up to $5,000.

IMG_8315 (2).JPG
Questis Weidenbach, senior, explains how she started a YouTube channel to help save people more than $1,000 per year on nail care during the winter capstone project presentation night at Detroit Lakes High School on Jan. 9, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune
IMG_8317 (2).JPG
A manicured hand featuring various nail products and techniques is displayed at the presentation table of Questis Weidenbach, senior, during the winter capstone project presentation night at Detroit Lakes High School on Jan. 9, 2023. Weidenbach started a YouTube channel to show people how to save $1,000 per year on nail care.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Questis Weidenbach, senior, presented her project titled: Nails and Savings. She explained how women can spend as much as $1,300 per year having their nails professionally manicured, but, she created a series of YouTube videos to teach anyone how to limit those costs to under $200.

After purchasing some home nail-care equipment and following her instructional videos, she said she believes anyone can have professional-quality nails without breaking the bank.

Daisy Hendrickson and Arianna Leitheiser, both seniors, conducted student surveys about how the physical environment affects the mental health of students when plants are introduced into a classroom.

They said, in their surveys, students described the classroom before the introduction of the plants as "boring" or "dull." However, weeks after having the plants introduced, students said it seem to "lighten the mood" and the plants made a difference.

IMG_8342 (2).JPG
Daisy Hendrickson, center-left, senior, and Arianna Leitheiser, right, senior, explain how incorporating plants into the classroom improves student mental health during the winter capstone project presentation night at Detroit Lakes High School on Jan. 9, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"It's hard to learn when people aren't enjoying the environment," said Leitheiser.

Emma Cummings and Ivy Geffre, both seniors, presented their volunteer project titled: Kindness on the Frontlines. The seniors wanted to show support for both the Detroit Lakes police officers and firefighters, so they had a group of second graders make colorful cards, which they presented to officers at the police station. They also provided an array of baked goods for firefighters during their weekly training sessions.

"I think it made them really happy," said Cummings. "It feels good to also have just done something good for the community over a long period of time, not just a one-time thing."


IMG_8347 (2).JPG
Ella Cummings, left, senior, and Ivy Geffre, center-right, senior, explain how they were able to bring kindness to Detroit Lakes police officers and firefighters during the winter capstone project presentation night at Detroit Lakes High School on Jan. 9, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Geffre added: "It just showed that the little things do make a difference to them and, if you can do those little things, why not do it?"

The expansion of the Laker Closet, a store for students in need of clothes and other sundries, was spearheaded by seniors Emily Killmer and Lilah Price.

After a clothing donation from Lakeshirts, the seniors hung up the clothes on racks and put together goody bags of toiletries and other items for students to pick up.

"We knew it was a problem by the survey (results) that kids wearing old or dirty clothes to school were feeling uncomfortable about their hygienic or clothing state," said Killmer.

IMG_8372 (2).JPG
Emily Killmer, center-right, senior, and Lilah Price, right, senior, explain why the Laker Closet is needed and how students can acquire donated items from the store during the winter capstone project presentation night at Detroit Lakes High School on Jan. 9, 2023.
Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Price added: "I didn't even really know we had (a clothing insecurity problem), so I think I just learned that it's a problem even if you don't see it."

Both seniors said they enjoyed the independence of the capstone project overall and that it made them feel like they were in a job or career and working through a problem.

"Kids are super smart and they are natural innovators," said Josh Omang, principal at Detroit Lakes High School, as he looked around the Lakeshirts Fieldhouse at all the setup presentation tables. "It's kind of a different model. Show what you know, show what you learned and how you apply it ... and it's good for these kids and it's good for us."

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
What To Read Next
Get Local