‘Ideal graduate’ is inspired by mom, chases car industry dream

The coronavirus shutdown of Ohio schools caught everyone by surprise this spring. But Dayton Regional STEM School graduate Caven Stanley said students should get used to expecting the unexpected in their high school years.

Stanley found plenty of examples of the unexpected in his own life.

• His favorite memory from high school didn’t happen in school, but in a canoe hundreds of miles away.

• The subject that stands out most in retrospect is math, the one he’s struggled with for years.

• And if you’re driving fast and a deer pops out of the woods, it can put quite a kink in your senior year.

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But even when the unexpected news is a challenge, Stanley, a Dayton resident, maintains an upbeat attitude.

“Being raised by a single mom and seeing how she always has made it work, my whole life, no matter what situation we get into, has kind of driven me and shown me, like, anything’s possible,” Stanley said.

Some of his favorite high school experiences have been out-of-class projects that integrate the science, technology, engineering and math concepts the STEM School is named for.

The school has been working on a zero-waste program for years and tried composting cafeteria waste. After struggles with early efforts, Stanley said he and other students volunteered after school with engineering teacher Philip Bottelier to build a greenhouse.

“I learned a lot about general carpentry, with how to measure angles,” Stanley said. “Plus how to know what your optimum sunlight angle is with a greenhouse to make compost most efficient.”

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In the last two weeks of each school year, students drop their regular classes and do a deep-dive “STEMmersion” adventure. As both a sophomore and a junior, Stanley was part of the 20-student group, led by Bottelier, who canoed the 120-mile Au Sable river in Michigan, sleeping in tents and cooking over campfires for a week.

“It was just the experience of going there, and getting away from the general society of being on your phone and having all this technology around you,” he said.

STEM School teachers and administrators had high praise for Stanley, with administrator Stephanie Adams Taylor calling him “one of the hardest working, kindest, and most beloved students at STEM.” That’s why she said it shook the school when Stanley was injured in a major car accident in February.

Stanley, who said he “absolutely loves everything about cars,” acknowledges he and his friends were going too fast when they saw a deer hop out onto the wooded road. His friend swerved then overcorrected and they went into the woods.

One hospital trip later, all the friends were healing, but Stanley was recovering from a concussion and punctured lung, and one friend had four screws and a plate in his foot.

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Stanley said he was “beyond thankful” that his teachers, especially calculus teacher Nancy Schaefer, went out of their way to give him flexible options when he returned to school about two weeks later. He said Schaefer had always been willing to spend extra time helping him.

That became even more important when, just days after that, schools shut down and switched to online learning, while Stanley had restrictions on screen time due to his concussion.

Adam Bolden, the STEM School’s fitness and wellness teacher, said the mood in the school changed for the better when Stanley came back from his accident.

“We have a model for the ‘Ideal Graduate’ and it would have been a lot easier to just put Caven’s picture (on it),” Bolden said.

Bolden said he and Stanley got to know each other because of their shared love for cars and Stanley’s desire to learn.

“When he is passionate about something, he wants to know everything about it so he can be the most knowledgable person in the room on that subject,” Bolden said, saying that was one example of Stanley’s work ethic. “I have never once heard him complain or gripe about having to do something, whether it’s school work or just a favor for someone else. He’s always willing.”

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Stanley is excited to attend Warren Wilson College, a small school in North Carolina where students have work and service requirements on top of academics. He said he’s already had adult responsibilities like paying his own car insurance and helping care for his little brother, so his biggest concern with the transition is moving away from family.

Stanley said his mother, Syble Brown, has always encouraged him to follow his dreams. His long-term dream, after earning a business degree, is to own his own high-performance motorsports shop, and to “go big” by partnering with bigger companies like Chevrolet Performance, Roush and Shelby American.

He feels like he’s grown in high school and gotten more prepared for what life throws at him.

“I feel like I became a lot more persistent than I was,” Stanley said. “The challenges that come your way, you kind of have to learn to adapt to those a little bit differently than maybe what somebody says.”

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