CLINTON – When Clinton High School teacher Bill Misiewicz, one of the facilitators of CHS’s Synergy program, changed CHS senior Hillary Burken’s class schedule to add her to the group without her initial knowledge, it turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to her.
Not only did becoming a part of Synergy alter the career path she’d planned, it shifted her entire outlook on life and the City of Clinton, Burken says.
In fact, having such a positive impact on the community is exactly what the program aims to do.
Synergy is a four-year-old STEM initiative provided through the Clinton School District. Students in the program meet the state’s academic standards while carrying projects from conception of an idea through to its completion. Students in the meantime learn 21st-century skills, such as how to communicate and create.
During COVID, however, the program almost ceased to exist. It proved to be difficult to achieve its goals under the restrictions caused by the pandemic. That’s when Clinton School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy approached Misiewicz last year and asked him to try to keep it alive.
Through Misiewicz’s efforts, the program has grown, a greater number of students has become involved and the projects the group has taken on have moved beyond STEM-focused initiatives and into the territory of economic development.
Synergy operates out of office space at 402 Sixth Ave. South, where 10 students guided by two facilitators have been working on bringing murals to life within the City of Clinton.
This project began last year with a mention at a meeting about the Downtown Clinton Alliance’s intent to have murals completed within the city. Synergy decided to take on this project, and all of its members began researching different aspects of murals.
“I learned more about murals in the span of a few months than I thought that I would ever know in my entire life because of non-stop researching it,” Clinton High School senior Michael Griffin says.
This past school year, the group began fundraising for the murals. Aside from grants they received to fund the project, the students pitched their project idea to so many local businesses that they began to create a name for themselves. Soon enough, contributors began contacting them, instead.
Although Misiewicz would challenge the students with goals like raising $3,000 within 30 days, the students surpassed his expectations and would raise $5,000 in a matter of two weeks. Ultimately, Synergy raised about $24,000 for the murals.
Philip Swanson, a Synergy facilitator, says it’s truly amazing from his standpoint as a teacher to see the students work together in this way and for the community, in turn, to embrace it.
The first mural to be completed is on Homer’s Deli and Sweetheart Bakery at 241 Main Ave., which was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Grow Clinton. The next to be finished is expected to be the interactive piece on the side of the building that houses Midwest Pets for Life at 129 Fourth Ave. South, followed by the completion of one that will replace existing artwork on the Clinton County Historical Society Museum at 601 S. First St.
The Museum’s mural will be composed of sheet metal designs that collectively measure out to be 12 by 19 feet. It and the Midwest Pets for Life building work are expected to be completed by June 1.
In addition to Synergy’s mural project, the group has also been working to revive the Mayor’s Youth Commission, a group of young people who serve as an advisory body for the Mayor of Clinton that had disbanded about seven years ago. Synergy also desires to establish one in the Calamus-Wheatland School District as well.
The link to a webstore offering Synergy apparel that will be available beginning May 19 will be posted soon on the group’s social media pages and, furthermore, Synergy has partnered with ADM and Citizens First Bank to provide larger state and national flags throughout Clinton High School. Those will be handed out May 20.
“I think, in the grand scheme of things,” Burken says, “this program is just going to explode with the amount of potential that it has and being able to become a pillar of the city and being able to continue to improve.”
For updates on Synergy projects, visit www.facebook.com/SynergyCinton.