EAST Lab Student Excels Beyond High School

Story by Jeannie Stone

Seventeen-year-old Casey Threlkeld is living the good life. The senior at Russellville High School (RHS) is already applying her learning to higher educational pursuits. Because she has earned her required credits for graduation, and because she has mastered the curriculum offered in her desired field, Threlkeld attends high school half a day and college the second half.

Casey, daughter of Jeff and Kerri Threlkeld, is a prodigy of the EAST program at RHS where she has lab facilitator Dustin Summey to thank for developing her unique schedule. In fact, Summey added an advanced class, East Lab IV, for the sole purpose of allowing Threlkeld the opportunity to continue developing her talent and gaining experience.

“She could have graduated early, but her parents thought she might later regret not graduating with her peers, so, as it was, she was going to be stuck in study hall and have so much down time,” Summey said.

“That would have been such a waste. She is willing to do anything for anyone. Casey is one of those rare students with equal left and right brain traits, so she tackles problems using both technology and art. I want to help her reach her potential.”

According to Summey, EAST focuses on student-driven service projects through the use of the latest in technology.

“The heart of EAST is more than the technology,” he said. “The technology is what attracts the students, but the real-world skills the kids use allow them to develop independent learning skills and problem solving skills.”

Those attributes are critical in succeeding in the fast-paced, high- tech work force, and honing those skills sets RHS students apart from the average entry level worker or college freshman.

Much has been said and written concerning the low-retention rate among college freshmen and Summey, ever the conscientious teacher, admits that for many students learning just loses its appeal. EAST recaptures the fun.

“Students gain skills in graphic design, web development, geospatial technology, digital video and audio, and virtual reality simulation. And the joy of this,” he said, “is that students can choose the part that interests them the most and pursue it.”

That freedom to gravitate to what interested her appealed to Threlkeld.

“It is so fun,” she said. “I get to be creative. There are no boundaries like having to write an essay according to set parameters. I get to choose what projects I want. I don’t like the video production, but I love working in Photoshop (a graphic design computer program).”

Excellence follows passion, and from her initial submission, the energetic Threlkeld has garnered several citations at the state level, placing first in two competitions. She has attended the national EAST conference every year.

“The best thing about the conventions,” she said, “is that I met my boyfriend the first year. Well, and the fact that I won in two categories.”

Threlkeld has worked as an EAST student administrator all four year assisting other students.

“There are so many things you have to learn from other people. You just can’t find it online,” she said.

One of her pet projects has been updating the school district’s Web site.

“A lot of the web pages didn’t flow well, and there were a lot of broken pages, so I went back and changed that.” She also added new teacher information.

Approximately 200 nationwide programs have been implemented by the EAST Initiative — an educational movement based in Little Rock and created by retired Greenbrier educator Tim Stephenson. Summey was enrolled in the first class organized at Russellville High School in 1998. His desire to re-connect with the program lured him back to RHS after he graduated from Tech with a Bachelors of Music Education.

EAST offers real world opportunities by offering school and community projects for students to showcase their emerging talents. “One of my biggest jobs is seeking service projects. The whole concept of doing something without expecting something in return is a novel concept for so many of the kids and is valuable itself,” Summey said.

Threlkeld recently made 120 nametags for a number of school personnel. She is considering rendering three-dimensional Sketch Up models of the entire campus at Tech for her next community service project.

“I went out there recently, and there were no names on buildings,” she said. “It was really confusing. It would be so easy to get on Google Earth (a Web site which provides current satellite images of any location on earth) and work on that. It would be great to have something on all the colleges so new students could see exactly what campuses looked like and how to get around.”

“And if she puts it on Google Earth, it becomes a collaborative project,” Summey said. “Anybody in the world could view it.”

After her morning high school classes Threlkeld enjoys having lunch with her parents, both of whom are very supportive.

“It’s really nice sitting down with them for an hour every day. I get to share my day with them.”

Her father Jeff is a firefighter, and her mother Kerri works in the admissions office at Tech.

“Casey has flourished in this arrangement,” Kerri said. “She’s getting a great foundation for college… and life really. These small steps are taking a great big bite out of college.”

Threlkeld has decided to continue her schooling at the University of Arkansas and enroll in their architecture department. Tech doesn’t offer that line of study.

“My dad used to be in construction,” she said, “and I used to visit the sites all the time. I was so fascinated with the fact that from a drawing a real three-dimensional structure appears. I still think that’s so cool.” She is also a member of the newspaper staff.

“My actual job title is ‘computer guru extraordinaire.’ I don’t write; I just make it all look pretty.” She is also an active member of First Assembly of God Church of Russellville.

Threlkeld considers building her own computer from scratch as her greatest accomplishment. She bought the individual components online and, according to her, spent “about one fourth of what I would have paid for a top of the line computer.

“I have a crazy, awesome computer now,” she said with obvious pride. “I looked up on Dell, and I would have spent $3,000 if I’d bought the computer from them.” Threlkeld estimates her cost at $630.

She is quick to encourage students to give EAST lab a try. Even her younger brother is envious of her schedule and is enrolled in the RJHS EAST program.

“I think if you want to know anything more than simple basics of computers you should really take this class.”

“And Mr. Summey is not your regular teacher,” she added. “He lets you learn on your own, which is really nice.”

“The world is at her feet,” Summey said in response. “She should not settle on just any job. She’s one of our finest.”

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