by Britt Aamodt
This spring, as hundreds of seniors graduate from Elk River Area School District, one will have traveled more than 103,000 miles commuting to school over seven years. To put that in perspective, the earth’s circumference is about 25,000 miles.
Jacob Crippes, 18, has come a long way since sixth grade, when he became the first student in the Elk River School District to enroll in the Northwest Suburban Integration School District Magnet School program.
Five school districts cooperate in the program, which allows students living in the districts to go to a school of their choice.
Mother Kori remembers the day the postcard for the magnet program came in the mail.
“I said, ‘Oh, I wonder what this is all about?’” she said, and then made plans to attend the open house.
The Crippes family went table to table, picking up brochures and talking to school representatives. One school stood out to them: Fridley Middle School.
It offered foreign language classes beginning in sixth grade.
“I really wanted to study a language,” said Crippes.
The first day of the 2006-07 school year, Crippes woke at 5:30 a.m., got ready, had breakfast, then bounded out the door to the van waiting at the end of the drive.
The fact that the program provided transportation “made it doable,” said Kori.
Crippes had a 45-minute commute each direction between Zimmerman and Fridley. He was the only passenger.
The first two years, Don Watson, a man in his 70s, chauffeured Crippes to school. Driver and rider became close. Watson got to hear about teachers, golf and band practice. Sometimes the exhausted middle schooler took a nap. Sometimes he finished homework.
The next year, Crippes was the youngest student to letter in golf. And two more kids from Zimmerman joined the van ride to Fridley.
Another reason the Crippeses liked Fridley was the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. IB classes stress the interrelatedness of courses and examine how what’s being taught can be applied to the real world.
In 10th grade at Fridley High School, Crippes’ IB English class was asked to develop a personal project.
“You were supposed to think of something you could do to help your community or peers,” he said. Some would compose music or seek to find a cure for a disease.
Crippes said he would join the military.
The idea was to get students to think about a possible future and then to research it. Crippes met with military recruiters.
He’d never seriously considered the military until the project, and after that he was hooked.
The seed planted in the IB English course resulted in one of Crippes’ biggest challenges to date when he applied to the Naval Academy.
“They start out with 20,000 applicants and from that choose 4,000,” said the graduating senior.
After being selected, Crippes had to secure a congressional nomination from a U.S. senator or representative. He interviewed with selection committees chosen by the offices of Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.
The Franken and Klobuchar committees were laid-back. But the Bachmann committee grilled Crippes like he was a private in boot camp.
“Everything I said was wrong,” he said.
His mother remembers him walking out of that interview. “One look at his face, and I was like uh-oh.”
So it came as a shock when he received his nomination in the mail — and it was from Bachmann’s office. The hard-knuckle committee members had been testing his mettle and they liked what they saw.
Crippes didn’t make it into this year’s round of Naval Academy selectees, but the graduate has been chosen to attend Greystone, a preparatory school for the Naval Academy. He’ll try again next year, and one way or another pursue his dream of a military career.
Because after a journey of 103,000 miles and seven years, Crippes knows what he wants.
“I want to serve my country,” he explained. “I want to do it for the people who live in my country and for the people already serving my country.”