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Finding time to shine at Five Mile Prairie

Paul Oestreicher is studying mobile electronics. (Dan Pelle)
Paul Oestreicher is studying mobile electronics. (Dan Pelle)

Sometimes it takes students a while to shine. That was true of Paul Oestreicher.

He’s attended Five Mile Prairie School since kindergarten, something quite rare in a school where the student body tends to ebb and flow. The school collaborates with parents to customize each student’s education.

But Oestreicher struggled with schoolwork. “When I was younger my mom and teachers thought I might have ADD or ADHD,” he said. “I would have none of it. I didn’t want medication.”

Teacher Robin Heppner witnessed his difficulties. “We weren’t quite sure what was going on,” she said. “He was bright and articulate, but not a pen-to-paper kind of kid.”

She observed that Oestreicher was more of a hands-on learner with a high aptitude for electronics and mechanics. And sometime during his freshman or sophomore year, a light bulb went on for him.

“I started to work harder. It clicked – I couldn’t sit back and be lazy,” he said. “I started seeing different applications for the things I was learning.”

His teachers were delighted by the transformation. “We watched him change from a super shy little kid to becoming his own person,” said Linda Warren.

“He came alive,” added Jaime Rowe. Oestreicher became a trusted, reliable student – the student every teacher would love to have.

The staff believes his freshman project sparked the change: Oestreicher built a music speaker from scratch. “I’ve always been fascinated by car speakers and loved audio systems,” he said.

His confidence grew as he realized all those pesky homework assignments could help him learn about the things he was most interested in.

This year he attended Newtech Skill Center, studying mobile electronics. “We build speaker enclosures and do vehicle wiring and speaker installations,” Oestreicher said.

He’s thrived in that environment. So much so, his instructor invited him to attend both the morning and the afternoon sessions.

Recently, Oestreicher took second place for mobile electronics in the regional Skills USA Championship – a showcase for the best career and technical students in the nation.

He went on to take third place at the state competition in April.

The staff at Five Mile Prairie appreciates his affinity for all things electronic. If fact, he’s been asked to put together the senior slideshow for graduation.

Oestreicher plans to further his studies of mobile electronics after graduation. He credits his teachers for his success. “They got me the help I needed and made sure I understood key concepts.”

However, his teachers are quick to point out that Oestreicher’s hard work and responsibility made all the difference. “There are kids that just stand out as great human beings,” said Pam Predisik. “Paul is one of those kids.”