PHS Launch Students Propose a Green Space for Pittsburg

On Tuesday, PHS Launch students presented their year-long project to community leaders and the City of Pittsburg. For students in the program, the project is more than an idea. 

Launch is a project-based learning program in the national CAPS Network (Center for Applied Professional Studies). It is a non-traditional class with no books, lesson plans, or tests – just real-world challenges to tackle on a daily basis. Students partner with companies and organizations to manage projects for a couple of weeks or an entire semester and often spend a few days per week at their worksite. 

At the beginning of the school year, Launch welcomed guest speakers Quentin Holmes, director of City of Pittsburg Housing and Community Development, and Brian Jones of Jones Heritage, Realtors, and president of the Pittsburg Land Bank, to talk with students about the challenges of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings in a city's downtown district. 

Holmes asked students what they would do with the Walnut & Second Street space if the existing, large, vacated brick warehouse was demolished and removed. The students immediately began to visualize a green space with a recreational area, kiosks for vendors to sell wares, a concession/equipment building, and the concept of a community gathering place with food trucks and live music. 

In the course of the conversation, Launch found their capstone project. The students began with a layout design on a poster board with three kiosks, a concession/equipment building with a restroom, and a green space. They progressed to a Minecraft version of the layout, then became more technically precise by teaching themselves CAD, and finally landed on a 3D animated version in SketchUp – also self-taught. 

Throughout the project, they brought in professionals who each shared their expertise and provided in-depth answers to students’ questions. Students were able to sit at the table with a civil engineer from Olsson who focused on project management, the owner of Tri-State Building, the owner of In The Garden, the owner of Cedar Creek Landscaping, a superintendent at Crossland Construction, and the City’s Public Works director. The class toured Lorenz Haus to learn about the renovation of a downtown building and gained insights into the details of outfitting the kiosks and a concession building.

Other professionals included leaders at Block22, who talked about the process of developing, naming, and branding an area of Pittsburg. Social media experts from USD 250, Pittsburg State University, and LimeLight Marketing offered guidance on managing content and bringing awareness to “The Spot.”

"In the beginning, we came up with many different names, some of them were okay, and some were terrible. We just kept saying we want people to go to this spot and do what they enjoy doing. And suddenly, it clicked that it was what we have been calling it all this time... we should make that the name. It fits perfectly, and although it didn't come from a long discussion about names, it happened naturally, and I think that is what makes it such a good name," said PHS senior Abe Alonso.

As the project progressed throughout the semester, the Launch teachers continued to connect the students with experts who could help. While the students enrolled this semester will not be working to fund the project, they wanted to present an idea that was possible. Students met with the executive director of Pittsburg State’s Development Office to learn about the process of fundraising and the importance of confidentiality in working with potential donors. They also invited leaders of community foundations and funding entities to a presentation about The Spot and to help Launch students learn about the availability of grants and resources throughout the community.

This spring semester's most significant step was partnering with four seniors from the PSU School of Construction. Tyson Stites, Austen Hunt, Mallory Croxton, and Gasevan “Sev” McGrue-Johnson met with the Launch students numerous times, sharing information such as the structural aspects of the kiosks and concession/equipment building. These construction seniors dedicated 233 hours to The Spot project. Launch students learned to convey their design and vision to the PSU students and to own their design when their preferences were challenged. 

Photo Courtesy of Pittsburg State University

The class agreement with the City of Pittsburg was for the Launch students to provide a final design and materials cost analysis to city leaders in hopes of receiving the blessing of the City of Pittsburg. When asked what their biggest challenges were, students shared that they realized quickly that this wasn't going to be just their project, that it would be shared with many different entities in the community.

"We have had some bumps and learned how to overcome that, but as far as getting people excited about it and finding help for it...it's been pretty smooth sailing," said PHS senior Cooper Hayden.

Launch received a letter of endorsement from City Manager Daron Hall the same day as the students’ presentation. 

"We could not be more appreciative to receive the City’s support, and we also know what it means for the future of Launch. The students enrolled in Launch this fall will begin working on the next phase of The Spot, such as exploring potential funding sources and learning how we could actually build The Spot," said Mindy Cloninger, director of Community Partnerships for the Launch Program.

There is still work to do. The letter from Hall does not guarantee city funding but is a support of the project and to help future Launch students as they pursue funding for the project. 

Today, Launch students will join Holmes live on the City of Pittsburg Facebook page to discuss their ideas for The Spot. 

Launch students managed multiple projects this year in addition to The Spot. Students presented these projects to the Board of Education on Monday this week; Superintendent Richard Proffit asked the students to share their most significant takeaway from the semester. 

"Just to realize how powerful we can be. We have the power to change our community, to build a business, and we are just high school students...If I am just a 17 or 18-year-old now, doing that, imagine where we will be in 10 years. Realizing that now is so valuable," said PHS senior Paul Moss, project coordinator for The Spot. 

"Making these connections means a lot to me; without Launch, I would not have made them," added Alliyah Hatfield, project coordinator for Leafy Greens.

You can learn more about the Launch Program and their many other projects at www.usd250.org/launch or follow Pittsburg Launch on Facebook or Instagram.