- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

MOSINEE, Wis. (AP) - A group of Mosinee Middle School eighth-graders are in the midst of developing an adaptive fishing pole for a former high school principal who was paralyzed from a fall from a ladder.

The nine students are in the middle school’s gifted and talented math class have been working for about a year to build the fishing pole, in collaboration with students from Northcentral Technical College and a couple of Mosinee High School graduates. The result of their work should be completed by the end of May.

That’s when all of the students and others involved in the project plan to get together to watch Jim DeBroux of Mosinee make his first cast since losing the use of his arms and legs from injuries he sustained falling off a ladder in July 2009. DeBroux had been the popular and award-winning principal of Mosinee High School for more than 20 years, and his paralysis forced him to leave the job he loved.

But even as he struggled through difficult recovery period and readjusted to a new kind of life, DeBroux vowed he would remain a teacher. But that promise sparked a passion to create, design and build an apparatus that will help him return to fishing, a sport he loves. And if the project continues along the arc it’s taken so far, the work of the eighth-graders, college students, teachers and DeBroux could end up helping quadriplegics everywhere.

No matter what happens in the future, the project has helped the students learn invaluable lessons about the power of teamwork, the importance of creativity and how what they learn in their classroom can be used in real life. A current of empathy vibrates through it all - giving the students a sense of mission they say has changed their outlook.

“The whole process has been life-changing,” Karlie Bonnell, one of the nine middle school students, told Daily Herald Media (http://wdhne.ws/1D434v0 ). “We were just so excited that eventually this would come along and that we would change something for (DeBroux). He could finally have those days where he could go fishing again.”

To still keep in touch with students and still teach, DeBroux regularly speaks at school and educational events. Last spring, about a year ago, DeBroux spoke at a disability-awareness event. A student asked him what he missed the most about his life before paralysis. He thought for a bit, according to those who were there, and said, “fishing.”

The eighth-graders are too young to remember DeBroux as a principal. But Maggie Hattlestad knew of him. DeBroux was especially helpful in helping Maggie’s older sister get settled in Mosinee High School after being homeschooled for several years.

“When he told his story, it got me worked up about it,” Maggie said. “The waterworks were flowing.”

Dave Masterson, a technical education teacher at Mosinee Middle School, noticed Maggie’s tears. Something that touched her, and other students, so deeply, could be used to motivate students to learn, he thought.

Masterson suggested to the students that they do something to help DeBroux. He and gifted and talented teacher Kathy Brandon paired up to help the students focus. Brandon teaches the nine students in a project-based math course that focuses on science, engineering, math and technology. Altogether, they decided to make the fishing pole. They called their collective Out of Compassion Comes Design.

They engaged with a recent graduate, Becky Sondelski, who is now a student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, to help refine ideas. And through the local network of educators, they engaged with instructors, then students at NTC, to help actually build the device. DeBroux has been part of the process as well.

“Jim’s dream for all this is for this not to stop at him. His dream is to get this for vets who might be paralyzed,” Masterson said. “And he’s very much a mentor.”

Both Brandon and Masterson said the project has engaged the students in astonishing ways.

“I look at it say, what is the best thing to happen to me as a teacher. It’s to get kids to think outside of themselves, outside the box and engage,” Masterson said. “For me, this is huge as an educator.”

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Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

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