MASH data students help Caring Closet make its case

Apr. 26—The annual spending for the Meadville Area Caring Closet was laid out on a bar graph to the left. On the right that spending was broken down into specific categories. Across the top — in the pink color scheme used throughout — a banner provided the source of the date: The Caring Closet, with hearts on either side.

The imagery came from a data dashboard, part of a spreadsheet presentation designed by Sydney Germanoski, a senior at Meadville Area Senior High (MASH).

The presentation — one of about 25 produced recently by data science students at the school — was effective enough that much of it was used for a similar data dashboard that will be a centerpiece in an upcoming public presentation on MASH's Caring Closet by Natalie Stearns, the French teacher who has led the charitable efforts targeting Meadville's middle and high school students in need for more than a decade.

After collecting data on nearly 2,000 transactions in the Caring Closet's retail history via orders, Germanoski and other students in Jill Kline's Introduction to Data Science class compiled the information in spreadsheets, each creating their own dashboard to present the results. While not especially surprising, the results nonetheless reinforced the role played by The Caring Closet, which provides clothing, shoes and other accessories to students who need them, and The Caring Cupboard, which provides weekend food supplies.

"Her spending has increased since it started, which makes a lot of sense to me," Germanoski said during an in-class interview. "It's grown a lot from this little thing that she started to a really important part of our school."

Germanoski took the data science class in hopes of gaining experience with Microsoft Excel prior to going to college.

"I wanted to be able to actually analyze data and see if it was something I wanted to do in the future," she said. Working with real-world data produced within the school itself was a bonus.

"It was a lot of fun," Germanoski said. "It's interesting to look over everything and make different graphics for it."

The final Caring Closet spreadsheet, which Stearns called "beautiful," was constructed with the best features of the data science students' efforts and drew heavily on Germanoski's — including the color scheme.

"My dashboard looks a lot like that," she said. "It's not exact, but it's pretty close."

The appearance will play an important role Thursday when Stearns hosts an informational meeting for local businesses and members of the public. Her hope is that data reflecting more than a decade of charitable efforts aimed at Meadville-area students will not only demonstrate the importance of the program but persuade participants to support it as well.

"As a not-numbers person, I'm now able to see that I've spent $64,000 in 12 years," Stearns said. "It was around $6,000 to $7,000 for the longest time."

But in recent years, the spending has increased dramatically, according to Stearns. For 2022 — the spreadsheet is organized by calendar years rather than school years — The Caring Closet spent more than $9,000. The next year, spending jumped to about $13,000. For 2024, Stearns has already spent about $5,000, she said.

This year, demand on The Caring Cupboard has been especially high: Five students were added this month to the weekend food bags that are supplied each week, bringing the total to 40, up from when about 25 to 30 were being distributed in late 2022. That number was about triple what it had been the previous year, Stearns said at the time.

The effort behind the two enterprises is significant: Stearns is assisted by student assistants who receive a half unit of academic credit when they volunteer to work in the Caring Closet in lieu of a study hall period. This semester she has seven students in the program.

But the impact more than justifies the effort and expense, according to Stearns. In addition to a wide range of the tracksuit-style clothes that have displaced the skinny pants and leggings of years past, The Caring Closet also stocks prom dresses, everyday shoes, and the clear backpacks required by the school's rules. The latter two items account for much of the spending.

"I have bought 477 of them at $20 a piece," Stearns said of the heavy plastic backpacks. As for shoes — "A new pair of shoes, not a used pair of shoes, does something for them. A brand new pair of boots to take to vo-tech makes them remember that somebody here unconditionally accepts and loves them."

The Caring Closet's mission is consistent with the goals that Stearns has pursued in 21 years as a teacher.

"I feel like school in general is a place where kids need to feel safe," she said. " I try to make all of my kids feel loved and provided for, and this is an extension of that."

When that mission can provide authentic learning experiences for students at the school, the result is a "win-win," according to Kline, who is teaching data science for just the third year.

"It was a situation where the kids could use the skills they've learned so far in the class to something that was real-world applicable and Mrs. Stearns needed this and we helped her out," Kline said. "The nice thing was showing the kids where challenges in the real world will present themselves and how we deal with those — there were a few things that cropped up along the way where it was like, 'OK, this is how we're going to fix this.'"

You can go

The Meadville Area Senior High Caring Closet will host an informational meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. Natalie Stearns, the French teacher who oversees the Caring Closet and the Caring Cupboard, will offer an introduction to the the two charitable efforts and will review quantitative data compiled by MASH data science students as well as qualitative data from students helped by the Caring Closet and Cupboard.

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at