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Marquette alternative high students learn by doing

November 17, 2010
By CHELSEY ROATH Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - A downtown Marquette trip transformed into a life changing experience for Cynthia DePetro's photography class at Marquette Alternative High School.

"The assignment was to capture the essence of downtown Marquette," DePetro explained. "It makes more sense to me to do real-life assignments that give them confidence versus doing homework for the sake of homework."

It was a typical fall day, a little bit chilly, as she recalls. The students were moving through the downtown, taking photos of buildings and sidewalks, all the while trying to stay warm. Chris Wattsson, owner of Wattsson and Wattsson Jewelers, invited the students into his store for a chance to thaw out. Chris Wattsson took over management of the popular business after his father, Ron Wattsson, passed away last spring.

Article Photos

Chris Wattsson works on a ring at Wattsson and Wattsson Jewelers in downtown Marquette. (Journal photo by Chelsey Roath)

After talking to the students about their assignment, Wattsson, who is a graduate of the Marquette Alternative High School, asked if the students would like to take pictures of his store.

"They needed a project, so why not do this?" he said, going a step further by offering to use the students' pictures in the store's advertising and Facebook page. He proceeded to take elaborate pieces of jewelry out of their cases, letting the students photograph them.

"It really touched my heart. I got to watch one of my previous students be an adult," said DePetro, who taught Wattsson English when he was in high school. "Chris trusted the students. I got to watch real learning take place right before my eyes."

For some students, this experience was more than just taking pretty pictures. It was the realization that anything is possible. Take junior Kaylee Hassel, for example. She found inspiration in Chris's story.

"If Chris, a young man, can own his own jewelry store, it makes me feel like I can achieve my dreams," she said. Kaylee, who hopes for a career in photography one day, said she was "so grateful and surprised that someone wanted to use my picture."

Wattsson, meanwhile, said he wanted to demonstrate that the alternative high school can be a gateway to great things.

"Some people view it as a last chance school, but that's not it at all," Chris said. "The smaller classes offer more one-on-one time and the teachers have the same amount of respect for the students as the students do for them."

Chris said it was his choice to go to Marquette Alternative High School. And it was the right decision.

Now he wants to give back to his old school.

"My dad was really big in community involvement." Chris explained. "I want to carry out that tradition. It's important to me to stay involved and continue to give back."

After watching her students explore Wattsson and Wattsson, DePetro recalls getting into her car before resting her camera on her dashboard.

"I just kept looking at the round lens and thinking about the circle of life, how we give and then take, give and then take," she said.

Chelsey Roath can be reached at 906-228-8920. Her e-mail address is



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