Sixth-grader works way through school

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- Toward the end of his fifth-grade year last spring, Jason "Jay" Osterbuhr felt very strongly about what his next year in school would bring -- he had to go to Grand Island Central Catholic.

"I didn't know why. It just felt right," Jay said simply during a quick break from working in the Central Catholic lunchroom recently. "It was just something I knew I wanted."

But going to private school was a major diversion from the Osterbuhr family's public school plan.

Senior sister Kate and sophomore sister Denise both attend Grand Island Senior High.

Eighth-grade sister Megan goes to Barr Middle School and fourth-grade sister Aly goes to Jay's alma mater, Stolley Park Elementary. Mom Chris Osterbuhr teaches at Newell Elementary School.

When Jay told his parents about his desire to go to Central Catholic, they listened, but the answer was no.

"I'm a Catholic from the cradle," Jay's dad, Tom Osterbuhr, said. "But I couldn't justify the cost when his sisters are getting ready to go to college."

The "no" made sense to 11-year-old Jay, but it didn't take away his desire to be a Crusader.

So he began to plan.

A paper route he started carrying about two years earlier generated some income, but not enough to pay his own tuition.

Jay calculated if he added two more paper routes to his morning routine, he could earn enough to make the monthly $200 tuition payment to the school.

In listening to his son's plans and second re-quest to go to Central Catholic, Osterbuhr could not say no.

Although some adults have tried to make Osterbuhr feel guilty about the tuition decision, Osterbuhr said the lesson is a good one for Jay.

"Sometimes we cheat our kids out of earning something because we just give it to them," he said. "What we owe our children are the facts of life and a sense of responsibility."

"He doesn't complain a bit," Osterbuhr said of Jay's obligation to rise at 5:30 a.m. weekdays and 6:30 a.m. on weekends to deliver 100 copies of The Grand Island Independent.

"He knew what he wanted," Osterbuhr said.

"He's very dependable," said Dave McDermott, district circulation manager at The Independent. "We've never had a problem on any of his routes."

And earning his own money has made private school a reality for Jay, who has loved his decision -- enjoying the smaller class size and personal attention from faculty and students.

"He's always smiling," Principal John Golka said.

"Yeah, I'm glad. It's great here," the blue-eyed redhead said, grinning as he sprayed food remnants off plates and stacked them in dishwashing trays.

Jay's work in the school cafeteria came about through another thing he likes at Central Catholic -- the food.

With a daily hot lunch selection ranging from things such as popcorn shrimp and chicken cordon bleu to hot dogs, doughnuts and a plethora of beverages, he found himself spending between $4 and $4.50 a day at lunch.

His dad noticed the costs with the increasing requests for more lunch money.

"I just kind of felt bad because I ate so much," Jay said.

So when he heard an announcement over the school intercom about an every-other-day opening in the cafeteria for students willing to wash dishes in exchange for lunch, Jay knew just what to do.

"I went to the office and said, 'Sign me up for the rest of the year,' " he said.

Jay then proudly informed his dad he had found a way to cut his lunch bill in half.

"I think that's really inspiring to take the initiative to know what he wants and find a way to accomplish that at his age," said Dawn Zulkoski, religious studies instructor at Central Catholic.

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