He is a presence at nearly every Wellington High School event. Football games, debate tournaments, music concerts, award ceremonies...he’s there with his Cannon camera and long lens. He’s a documentarian, chronicling the student life of Wellington High School.
The opportunities to take pictures and post online are endless, just as Steve Sturgis perceived they would be when he launched his website, wellington.cc, 20 years ago. (It was under a different name then; there have been a few.)
Activities. Something new every day. A new batch of students every year. He figured it would be a good outlet for his skills. He had recently taken a voluntary layoff from his job in quality assurance job at Boeing in Wichita and returned to his hometown of Wellington to look after his aging mother and he wanted to try something new.
Around this time, the Columbine High School mass shooting took place. Sturgis heard Dan Rather say on TV that kids of that time were growing up in a lost generation, and he disagreed.
“It sounds hokey but I wanted to show the world that Wellington and Wellington kids were good,” Sturgis said of his decision to start the website. “There’s a lot of positivity in our schools and it's really not a lost generation. They are mostly all good kids.”
Nowadays, it’s obligatory for a school to have a website. Twenty years ago, it was a novelty. Sturgis wasn’t even sure WHS would let him design a school website so he offered incentives.
“I actually told them I thought we would we would try to get a $500 scholarship each year and it really exceeded that from the get-go,” Sturgis, himself, a 1974 graduate of WHS, said. “We were shocked and we’re very happy it's done well.”
Sturgis doesn’t get paid for the website.
“That’s just a hobby I started with the notion of raising scholarship money for the students and that was at a time when all that was pretty brand new stuff,” he said.”This was when the internet was just getting strong.
“I was probably one of about three people in town that had a digital camera. It was just a whole different ball game back then.”
In the early days, donations went strictly for cash scholarships and fundraisers were held to drive in money. Today, the donations come in more swiftly, primarily from alumni and local businesses. Nearly $210,000 has been collected in the past 20 years and the money is spread around to help more students by providing them with laptops, rather than giving scholarships to a few graduating students.
At many of the school events Sturgis documents for the website, he is joined by a student from the yearbook staff, video recording the action. Sturgis works close with students.
WHS Principal John Buckendorff talked about how Sturgis met with the high school administration two years ago about assisting with some project-based learning goals. He wanted to “increase his coverage of district events and impact the students in a more meaningful way,” Buckendorff said in an email.
Out of these meetings, came Broadcast News and Digital Media Production, a collaborative class Sturgis teaches with WHS journalism teacher Katie Ford. Students work with Ford on the yearbook and work with Sturgis in producing a newscast and other video projects.
Students have embraced this class in which they learn videography, photography, reporting, video editing on the computer, writing articles, yearbook writing and layout and other skills.
“Mrs. Ford and Steve cover the whole gamut,” Buckendorff said. “Steve is able to bring his experience in the field to bear to provide real-world, innovative, hands-on learning experiences for the students of WHS. The administration couldn't be happier with the results.”
During the last school year, in its debut year, the Broadcast News class took first place in statewide competition and qualified for a trip to compete in nationals.
Sturgis said he would like to hold on to his webpage for as long as he can, but the tentative plan is that when he eventually does let it go, the site will be managed by the journalism students.
Ford, who graduated from WHS 15 years ago said when she and her former classmates talk about Sturgis’s impact “we talk about how it did not matter what activity we were participating in--sports, arts, drama, forensics, debate, FFA--we felt like we were acknowledged and supported and celebrated by him.
“It was meaningful to us just that he knew our names and that he'd take the time to engage us in conversation. I can tell my students still feel that way.”
Daniel YoNash, Edward Jones financial advisor and community volunteer said in an email that it’s been amazing to watch what Sturgis has accomplished every year.
“We all ought to emulate his spirit of giving back,” YoNash said. “He does it so well. Cheers to him.”