Stretching for knowledge

When students at Sonora High School make their proposal for their senior project, they must explain why this idea would be a stretch for them.

That’s the word the school uses — stretch.

These projects, which are a requirement for passing senior English, have got to be one of the most beneficial pursuits of the entire high school experience.

Imagine if we all did something regularly that was out of our comfort zone.

Consider the project of Candace Olsen, a senior at Summerville High School. She has raised $36,000 to install a memorial for those who died in the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath.

The memorial was an ambitious project that was all but dead until Olsen came along. She’s 17.

“If it wasn’t for Candace I don’t know that we would have been able to complete this project,” Aaron Rasmussen, Post Commander of VFW 4748 in Tuolumne and an Iraq war veteran, told The Union Democrat.

Olsen is planning a barbecue and silent auction on Feb. 22 at the Sonora Opera Hall. It’s sold out, but she’s looking for more auction items. She’s going to sell hats and T-shirts, and it seems obvious she’s going to surpass her goal of $40,000.

If she does, that would make her the largest contributor to the project, and it would bring the total raised to $69,000. Rasmussen says the memorial, to be installed at Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall, would cost about $80,000.

Last year, twins Erika and Alexis Simonson, also Summerville students, held a prom for people with disabilities. Others have staged free sports clinics, crafted art pieces, written books, rebuilt engines. One year, a student built an airplane wing.

Sonora High Principal Ben Howell learned to play the piano as his senior project in 1998, when the program began at Sonora High. He said, “the sky is the limit” with regard to what a student can choose to do.

“We say ‘You’ve been here for four years, let’s do something with that,’” Howell said.

It’s just got to be a stretch.

County fairs
without chickens

Chickens are a huge part of the Mother Lode Fair and the Calaveras Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, but fair organizers certainly made the right decision in excluding them this year after an outbreak of the deadly Newcastle virus in Southern California.

The reason, despite the disease being so far away, was to protect the commercial poultry business.

Poultry and other livestock accounts for $13 million of the $21.5 million in livestock production in Tuolumne County, which probably is the reason so many kids want to raise and show chickens at the fair. There’s a future in it. One student at Sonora High is already in the chicken business, raising and selling hundreds a year.

Nancy Scott, all-poultry group leader for Tuolumne County 4-H, told The Union Democrat she’s telling her group to bring eggs, do more presentations or even switch to rabbits.

The fair’s small livestock department is planning to have a Jeopardy-like trivia contest called the Avian Bowl.

This Newcastle disease is so deadly and contagious it can wipe out an entire commercial flock. And it doesn’t take chicken-to-chicken contact. It can spread from machinery and people’s clothing.

One thing’s for sure, we want to keep Newcastle as far from the Mother Lode as possible.