BROWNSTOWN

Living with Type 1 diabetes since she was 5 years old, Leah Stidam hopes to someday see a cure.

At one point, she found it difficult to deal with having the disease. But throughout the years, she has learned to embrace it, finding ways to let others know all about it and raising money toward finding a cure.

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After attending No Limits Diabetes Camp last summer in Nashville, the 17-year-old Brownstown Central High School junior started an awareness campaign called Leah’s Footprints and created Team Leah.

She ordered nearly 400 rubber arm bracelets and sold them for $1 apiece, with proceeds going toward finding a cure for diabetes. Now, she only has a handful left.

“It has blown up here in the last few months, and that’s really great,” she said.

Stidam recently received an opportunity to talk about the work she has done while also spreading the word about diabetes through a Google 20 Time project in Melanie Preston’s Advanced Placement language arts class.

Google made the business practice famous by asking its employees to spend 20 percent of their time to work on a project unrelated to their job. That allows them to come up with innovative ideas and see if they flourish or fail.

Famous ideas that have come from the Google 20 Time initiative have included Gmail, Google Docs and other Google applications that are used daily by businesses, schools and individuals worldwide.

Since November, Preston’s students have spent 20 percent of their time — one class period a week — working on a project of their choice. Preston has dubbed it “20 Percent Tuesday.”

During that time, the students came up with ideas, researched what they were interested in and found ways to do something with what they learned. Some chose to do a solo project, while there were several pairs and one group of five.

Preston said the open-ended aspect of the project was difficult for some students because they typically want guidance on what to do so they will get a good grade.

“I know I am asking them to do something out of their comfort zone completely, but when you reduce the risk of failure, you open a lot of doors and windows, so to speak,” Preston said.

“The only thing I found myself doing is pushing them more,” she said. “They come up with an idea, and I’m like, ‘Why don’t you do something like this with it?’ or ‘What about this?’ We just start brainstorming ideas. They are like, ‘Oh, I never thought about that,’ because it’s something totally different.”

The project includes completing blogs and discussion threads, presenting or publishing their project and working with an adult mentor.

As part of the proposal process, students participated in Pitch Perfect Night Jan. 7 in the high school library, where they invited family, friends, teachers and mentors to learn about the projects and see what progress they have made.

“This allows them to own it and tell other people about what they are doing and to get excited about it,” Preston said.

Students will continue to work on their projects until the end of the trimester in February. Then they will do a five-minute informal video or in-person discussion in class to talk about their projects, sharing what worked and what didn’t work.

For each aspect they complete, Preston gives the students check marks.

“How amazing is it that the only grade they are going to get is that you did it?” Preston said. “It’s not fair for me to grade quality of something just because I think it’s good or isn’t good. And it’s OK to fail. It’s OK for what they are wanting to do to not work. They still get the same grade as if they were successful at the completion. It allows them to challenge themselves and take a chance and try something new.”

Stidam initially didn’t know what she wanted to do, so Preston asked her about her hobbies and passions. Stidam is heavily involved in volleyball, basketball and softball, and she lives with diabetes, so that helped her decide the focus of her project.

She found success with the bracelets while attending a sports camp at Purdue University. She met Ashley Burkhardt, a former Boilermakers athlete and current professional softball player, as well as the Purdue volleyball team, and they all wanted bracelets. Burkhardt later tweeted a picture of her wearing a bracelet, and several of Stidam’s friends said they wanted one, too.

The bracelets have gone over well, and she is spreading the word about diabetes, so Stidam considers the project a win-win.

“It’s a full-time job that we don’t get any breaks from, so I want people to know about it,” she said of having diabetes. “I don’t ever remember not having it, so I’ve always had diabetes. It’s a huge part of my life. A lot of diabetics are down because they have it, but it’s just part of me, so I just live with it every day.”

The group of five’s display on Pitch Perfect Night was a popular stop. Juniors Wesley Morning, Sam Noblitt, Bret Fleetwood, Harlan Deaton and Sam Hoff are creating a video of historical figures for an AP history class to use.

Morning said when he was in that class, students had to pick an important person in history and make a presentation or video.

“I had Cornelius Vanderbilt, and we made a video over Vanderbilt, and everyone liked it,” he said. “We had a lot of fun doing it, so we thought we could try it again.”

For the Google 20 Time project, the group obtained a list of historical figures, going from Christopher Columbus to Dwight Eisenhower. Deaton is the main actor, and fellow group members and others have stepped in to act. Hoff volunteered to do the filming.

The group has met a couple of times a week and filmed for a few hours at a time. They hope to have the video done soon so they can hand it over to the history teacher.

“In one of our history classes that I had this year, we literally take notes for an hour straight, and it just goes on and on and is so boring. Kids don’t do well on the tests because they don’t pay attention for that long,” Hoff said. “This will make it more fun for them to learn.”

Plus, while watching the video, the students will see others they know.

“It’s actual students who have been through that class, so it’s going to be easier to relate to kids your own age in the video and get their comedy and understand what they would like to hear,” Noblitt said.

This was Preston’s second year of having her AP language arts class do Google 20 Time projects. She first learned about it while attending a summer technology workshop.

Her class enjoyed the project so much last year she knew she had to do it again this year.

“I think it just helps them beyond high school in whatever career path they choose or in college, just being able to present their ideas,” Preston said.

The projects help students with public speaking, confidence, communication and other lifelong skills, she said.

“I hope they gain some confidence in the project they are doing and affirmation that they are doing something really amazing,” she said. “Hopefully, they will do more of this in the future and they are not afraid to try something new, they are not afraid to pursue something they are passionate about.”

Preston also wants her students to be passionate about learning.

“I think we’ve lost some of that, especially by high school. It’s just the way it works,” she said. “I hope they are passionate about learning and find that it’s cool to learn again.”

On the Web

For information about Google 20 Time, visit 20timeineducation.com.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.