In 2012, shortly after former Pioneer Principal Michael White left, there was a move towards a “beautification” and updating of the Pioneer grounds. The initiative was staff led and was often encompassed as part of staff-bonding days and discussed in meetings. The first event to fix up the school’s outdoor appearance was the 2012 Fall “Clean-up.”
“Pioneer has a lot of tradition and pride, but unfortunately the grounds are not kept up with how we feel about the inside,” said English Department Chair Donald Packard. “Most of us thought it was the best staff development we had in years.”
Packard and other Pioneer staff members were very excited about the initiative that was being taken by the leaders of the school. A website (pioneerhs.weebly.com) was made to document all the projects regarding the school’s general appearance and functionality both inside and outside the building. The staff intended this to be a way for the projects to be documented with the hope they continue to grow over the years.
In the Fall of 2013, the Pioneer Parent-Teacher-Student Organization picked up the idea. The PTSO offered to fund many necessary supplies and was instrumental in helping. The issue was that since the clean-up was no longer part of a staff day and held on a Saturday morning, there was a smaller turnout and thus less was accomplished.
Many initial events drafted in meetings and put on the website became harder to organize as they were no longer integrated into full staff efforts.
“What I’ve found is that if you get all this kind of stuff organized, there are plenty of people who want to help do it,” said Packard.
The PTSO continues to work with Pioneer staff, students, and families at these clean-up days; however, Packard has been trying to get more groups on board to help plan and further improve the upgrading.
Some Pioneer groups have already made advances in doing so. The Interact Club is involved with cleaning the courtyard, the wrestling team maintains a small garden, Key Club cleans up the drop-off area, and Habitat for Humanity is currently constructing the new bocce ball courts in the area next to E-Hall.
One of Packard’s most recent initiatives is to tidy up and redesign the space behind the athletics trainer’s room and the old football locker rooms. For this task, Packard went to Pioneer junior football player Nate Helberg. “I didn’t know Nate,” said Packard, “but I knew he did the announcements so he cares about stuff here.”
Helberg said he accepted the task given to him as he was excited to make a difference and clean up an area he uses quite often given that he is a member of the football team. “This would be another way to beautify the area, split up the costs, and give all teams a little recognition,” said Helberg.
Helberg assembled a team of other Pioneer juniors including Keshav Kanapur, Abigail Simon, and Joshua Webb, and began right away drafting up ideas and sketching designs for the space. The project really got moving when Packard reached out to his colleague and 2004 Pioneer graduate, Michael Bostic.
Bostic works as a Landscape Designer for SmithGroupJJR in Ann Arbor. SmithGroupJJR ranks as one of the top agricultural and engineering firms in the country, with offices in 10 cities.
Packard and Bostic spoke a lot about how designing spaces requires one to first think about how people really want to use the space because what is built will encourage certain behaviors of people in the space. As an example, Packard explains, “you never want to put benches back to back” since it discourages making conversation.
On Jan. 30, Packard had Helberg and the rest of the team meet with Bostic to discuss options, designs, and the financial impact regarding the athletic space near the training room.
Helberg said the meeting with Bostic went very well. They went over the students’ ideas, came up with some new ones, and were at a point in which Bostic can start making three-dimensional computer designs of their ideas the group plans to have as visuals to show to outside sources asking for financial donations and funds for the project.
Helberg and the team then met again with Bostic at his office in late February. Bostic presented his three-dimensional computer interpretations of the design to the team. They are now using these designs to help them apply for the Pioneer Fund for Excellence in Academics and Athletics Grant and the Washtenaw Master Gardeners Grant to help fund the project.
Packard is hoping that the football team will take initiative and help build whatever plans are finalized. “It’s all about using our resources and getting people on board with doing positive things for our school,” he said.
If other athletic teams and student-led clubs can follow the examples set by a few groups at Pioneer, the school may be able to convert the building back to an extremely attractive and enticing place in the community.
Helberg believes that initiatives like this also expand students’ outlook on where they go and how they feel. “We go to school here everyday, and if you enjoy the place you go to, you’ll work harder and be more inclined to help out on projects like this in the future,” he said.
Packard, too, hopes these efforts begin to build on each other in stronger ways.
“We are the only school who has its enrollment going up [and] we are the most visible school being at Main Street and Stadium,” he said. “It’s a gateway into our city, so we should look better than we do.”