STANTON — On Thursday morning, a nervous, shivering, but excited Kaitlyn Schultz drove to school for the very first time.
However, the 16-year-old sophomore at Central Montcalm High School did so traveling not more than 15 miles an hour with a freezing wind in her face, all while sitting atop her late great-grandfather’s crank-engine farm tractor from the 1930s.
But Schultz said the long, cold drive was well worth it, knowing in the process, she, along with several other students, were partaking in the first Drive Your Tractor to School Day to bring awareness to juvenile diabetes at Central Montcalm High School.
Schultz was one of more than a dozen students who pulled into the high school parking lot sitting atop a tractor as fellow students and teachers watched in awe as the massive machines parked in the same lot as cars, vans and trucks driven by other students.
“It was a little nerve-racking to be honest,” Schultz said of driving to school on a tractor. “I can’t really hear anything when driving it, but my grandpa followed behind me.”
For Schultz, Thursday’s fun event hit close to home, as her grandfather, Larry Baker, who followed behind her in his truck to make sure she made it school safely, is a diabetic.
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“My grandpa has diabetes and although we’re doing this for juvenile diabetes, it helps either way,” she said. “Diabetes hits you personally and you want to do anything you can to help.”
Schultz, who regularly drives the tractor at her grandfather’s farm to rake hay, said Thursday’s event brought her even closer to her late great-grandfather, Floyd Baker.
“We use the tractor to rake hay every year,” she said. “I enjoy raking hay because my great-grandpa used to do it. It makes me feel like I’m close to my great-grandpa. If he was here today he’d be super happy that I’m doing something like this.”
Schultz said she learned how to drive a tractor from her grandfather and was happy he could participate in the event with her.
“He’s just about the No. 1 person in my life so it was special to have him there with me,” she said.
Eighth grade teacher Brad Hansen organized the event after hearing about a similar event at Fremont High School, where as many as 30 students arrive to school on tractors.
On Thursday, 13 full-size tractors were driven to Central Montcalm High School by students, with several mowing tractors driven to school as well.
The event was part of a series of events at the high school this year with a goal to raise more than $2,500 for juvenile diabetes.
“For this being our first year, to have this many tractors, I’m happy,” Hansen said.
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Hansen, who’s own son, Brookyn, is a diabetic, has organized several events at the high school to raise awareness for juvenile diabetes and said students at the high school wasted no time jumping on board to support the cause by driving their tractors to school.
“I know we have six or seven diabetic kids here at the school and my own son, Brookyn, is diabetic as well,” he said. “The students and staff are behind this big time. It’s been great, I couldn’t ask for much better today.”
High school students exited the school periodically by class from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., voting on their favorite tractor by donating money toward their tractor of choice. All proceeds from Thursday’s event go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Central Montcalm High School Principal Anthony Petersen said he was thrilled with the energy put forth by the students to raise awareness for the cause.
“This is a good way to celebrate our community,” Petersen said. “We’ve got a lot of farmers around here and it’s nice to be able to bring a little bit of that culture here to our school and helping out a cause like juvenile diabetes in the process.”
But the highlight of the day was saved for 10 a.m., when the students climbed back onto their tractors and drove to Central Montcalm Upper Elementary School to parade the tractors in front of the elementary students.
Jaws dropped and kids began to scream and jump as the tractors revved their engines, bellowing black smoke into the air as the massive tires of the tractors rolled along just feet in front of them.
Once parked, teachers toured their students around each tractor and many students reached deep into their pockets to find whatever change they could muster to donate for juvenile diabetes toward their favorite tractor.
“Seeing these upper elementary kids going crazy, that made this all worth while,” Hansen said. “Don’t think for a minute that these high school students driving the tractors didn’t eat it up. It was special seeing them interact together. It’s been a real good day today.”
Hansen said aside from raising money for juvenile diabetes, he was especially glad for the students taking part in the event.
“Farming is cool, and we want to show the students here that,” he said. “What better way is there to support these kids and the farmers of our community? Everybody likes tractors and to see those big dogs out on the road is even better.”
Senior Heath Wolverton, 17, who also drove a tractor to school, said he felt the event was a complete success and hopes to see the event continue in the future.
“I think it was a really good idea for us to drive our tractors to school, show off a little farmer swag and raise some money for a good cause,” he said. “I was very excited to do this today and I hope it becomes an annual event for the school.”