OU Big Event volunteers get Oklahoma City high school prom-ready

I covered Big Event yesterday for class, and my story ended up being republished for The Daily. I picked a random group to follow out to their job site, and I ended up picking a group with a great story. The high school students were volunteering at didn’t have enough money to host prom somewhere else this year, so it’s being held in the school’s courtyard. Big Event volunteers and high school students worked together Saturday to get it prom-ready. Here’s my story:

Dozens of volunteers filled Northwest Classen High School’s courtyard Saturday — high school students worked alongside OU Big Event participants, chattering and laughing as they planted flowers, painted walls and picked up trash. In two weeks, students dressed in gowns and suits will fill the same courtyard for the high school’s junior-senior prom.

Without funds to move to a separate venue, the Oklahoma City high school relied on its own students and OU’s day of community service to make sure the courtyard, just under two grassy acres in the center of the school, would be suitable for the school dance.

“We didn’t really have anyone to clean up the area and make it look good enough for our seniors to enjoy their prom,” Northwest Classen teacher Ben Laptad said. “There are just some places we aren’t able to get to, so with all the hands from OU volunteers combined with ours, it’s been great.”

The day of service is especially close to Laptad’s heart. An OU graduate who was placed at Northwest Classen through Teach for America, Laptad was Big Event chair in 2014. Seeing both sides of the operation — serving and being served — he understands the importance of giving back.

“Our students, and a lot of high school students in general, are working during their junior and senior years, and a lot of them are trying to make ends meet at home for their families. Since they have to work on that and do their schoolwork, it doesn’t leave much time for community service,” Laptad said. “This is a time where we can be purposeful about giving back to our school and the community.”

Northwest Classen was paired with OU’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for the Big Event. J’amie Randall, an early childhood education senior who participated in the Big Event for the third time this weekend, saw the day as an opportunity to tie OU to the broader Oklahoma community.

“It’s so easy when you’re on campus to just be part of OU, and that’s a really great community, but OU’s a part of Norman, and a part of Oklahoma,” Randall said. “It’s just really important to get out of that bubble.”

For the OU volunteers, participating in Big Event is a way to give back to the community. This year, more than 5,600 students signed up to volunteer for the 17th annual Big Event at OU.

For Northwest Classen’s junior class president Emily Sandoval, it’s a way to address her classmates’ less-than-thrilled reactions to having prom in the courtyard.

“It’s the first year we’re actually doing it out here,” Sandoval said. “At first, some people were like, ‘Yeah sure, I’m sure it’ll look good,’ and other people are like, ‘I don’t care, I just want a prom.’ But then some people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, prom’s going to be here? I’m so not going.’”

Sandoval thinks that by April 23, the cleaned-up courtyard will have her peers excited for prom.

“I think that you can make anything look nice with hard work,” she said.

About 30 Northwest Classen students partnered with InterVarsity volunteers to clean, paint and plant. Laptad said the high school students showed up to help of their own volition.

“I think it’s important to have pride in where you graduate from, where you want to say, ‘Oh, I went to school there,’” Northwest Classen senior Pablo Gutierrez said. “You want your school to be nice, and you want it to be the best school it can possibly be.”

For OU volunteers, the day of service began with an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday on the North Oval, complete with Beyoncé blasting over speakers. From there, students split up to head to their separate job sites across the Norman and Oklahoma City areas.

Though Big Event is only one day a year, Laptad said it’s a chance for students to show gratitude for places that have invested in them. For Northwest Classen students, the Big Event can mean a chance to be proud of their school.

“The students deserve to have a place that’s reflective of what we want our school to be,” Laptad said. “We’re on a mission to educate students here, and we all get caught up in our day-to-day tasks, so the Big Event’s a great way to push pause, get everyone together, get our students to meet OU students and see what college life is like while they’re serving our school together.”

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