ALBERTON – They aren’t the smallest graduating class to have ever matriculated from this railroad town’s high school, but the six seniors may be the closest-knit class ever.
Meet Natasha Ball, Megan Drury, Todd Myrstol, Shawnda Rohrbach, Josh Webb and Emma Wooldridge.
Most have known each other from grade school, and all of them have become each other’s best friend over the years.
“We take care of each other — at school or at home,” Wooldridge explained. “We want each other to succeed.”
“We do everything together,” Webb said. “We don’t exclude anybody, we are together as much as possible and we eat lunch together every day.”
“We talk things out and if there’s a problem or conflict, we work through it,”Myrstol said.
Stellar in all ways, of the students is going on to college next fall, said Kara Cox, the students’ counselor and government teacher.
“There is nothing average about this class,” Cox said. “They are above average and beyond in everything they do.”
While their teachers sing their praises, the students’ senior projects – the first Alberton class to have ever do them –speak to their talent and heart.
Take Webb, for instance. When challenged to come up with a project, Webb decided he would do something to honor his brother, Matt, who died in a car accident a few years ago.
“He loved kids and I know if he were alive today he would be doing something with little kids,” Webb said. “Mr. Clevenger our principal wanted to start a T-ball league because there are no sports in Alberton for little kids,” he said. “And I wanted to do something Matt would be proud of.”
Fortified with a need and an idea, Webb not only organized a T-ball league of 17 children, but earlier in April he also lead a giant 30-some person clean- up of the town’s abandoned ball field.
For 10 years or more – no one can remember the last time it was used – the field had become overrun with weeds, cigarette butts, broken beer bottles, garbage and graffiti.
With an army of parents, T-ball players and friends, Webb got the field restored and it is now home to rowdy, fun-filled ball games.
Rohrbach was frustrated that neither her school nor her community had a recycling program, so she set about solving the problem.
After some phone calling around, Allied Waste agreed to help out and Alberton Feed & Supply agreed to house the giant blue recycle containers.
“I guess this was tried once before, but the recycle bins became a dumping site,” Rohrbach said. “I spend some of my time pulling garbage out of the bins, but most people are using it the way I had hoped.
“This is a new experience for me,”she said. “And it’s been really good. I’ got my family to start recycling paper and magazines and my dad has got his friends to recycle and they got their friends to recycle.
“I think it’s important we do this. It’s hard to do recycling in Alberton, but when we do, we help with preventing deforestation and with improving the cleanliness of town.”
In that theme, Rohrbach was sure to point out that on Monday, which is Earth Day, the seniors intend to dedicate time cleaning up the town, and putting all that can be recycled into the awaiting new bins.
“ I do feel like it is helping,” she said. “I got a facebook message from a community member who wrote: ‘You made my life so much easier. Thank you for bringing recycling to Alberton.’”
Wooldridge was always impressed by her grandmother’s quilting abilities, but she never took the time to learn from her.
For her senior project, Woolridge found a mentor in town to teach her the ages-old skill.
She’s on target to finish a large vibrant orange, yellow and pink quilt in the next few weeks, and when she’s done, the plan is to sell or raffle off the quilt and donate the proceeds to charity or somebody in need.
The work involves precise cutting of fabric, perfect assembly of pieces, and excellent sewing skills.
Wooldridge said the learning process has challenged her patience, and has taught her a lot about strategy and consistency.
“If you don’t do things just right, you have to rip out the threads and start all over again,” she explained. “But it’s coming along – slowly.”
In honor of her grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, Ball organized a 5k fundraising run for breast cancer screening earlier in the month.
Not knowing what to expect from her project, in the end, 19 runners showed up for the event, and her project raised $400.
The money, she said, will be given to the Susan K. Komen foundation to help Montana women have access to breast cancer screening.
With so many things to be proud about her school and with so many outstanding athletes in her school – including her graduating class – Drury decided to create an 8 foot by 8 foot mural to hang in the school gym.
In honor of the school’s mascot, Drury created a giant panther paw that within its pads celebrates the school’s basketball, volleyball, football and running excellence.
Her goal for the mural, she said, is to further raise school pride.
Although the senior project assignment came just at the start of football season, Myrstol decided he would try and restore a 1951 F-1 pickup truck that had been in his family for four generations and passed through the hands of his many uncles.
Despite all intentions to restore the truck, no one in the family had really gotten the thing road worthy, let alone restored.
Myrstol’s first challenge was finding a way to haul the truck from an uncle’s garage in Big Timber, which he eventually did by himself with the help of a flatbed trailer.
The next challenge was finding someone with the expertise to help him.
Dan Redli in Missoula had both the patience and the skill to help Myrstol to accomplish his goal.
Over the course of the fall and winter, what was a corroded relic of the past was transformed into a showroom truck and source of pride.
“I didn’t have much knowledge about how to do this when I started,”Myrstol said. “But I learned to persevere and I learned about how there are times you just have to push through frustration to get the job done.”
Cox, and Kent Haab, the senior’s sponsor and teacher, well up when they describe this special class of six seniors.
“These kids are just exceptional,” Haab said. “They are respectful, they work well together, they are great students, and they have great focus,” Haab said. “As a teacher, they are the best class I have ever worked with.
“They are easy to teach, but it’s easy when you motivated students.”