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Grand Rapids students tell policy makers what they want from school

Students attending a class at ITEC's new headquarters in Lansing's Foster community center
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)
Students attending a class at ITEC's new headquarters in Lansing's Foster community center

There are plenty of adults talking about what should be done concerning education in Michigan. But an event in Grand Rapids gave students an opportunity to explain what they need from their schools.

Lynn Heemstra helped organize the event, called“KidSpeak.”

“It’s my belief that a lot of people that have legislative responsibility don’t really know the extent of what young people are dealing with in the their lives and what they’re receiving in the way of day to day educational opportunities,” Heemstra said.

Policy makers at the local, state and national level listened to students for about two hours Friday morning. Kids read prepared, but candid, at times emotional speeches about everything from curriculum and technology to college and career preparations.

Heemstra directs Our Community’s Children, a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools and private businesses. Through the Mayor's Youth Councilthe partnership has organized KidSpeak for 15 years.

She says the point of the event is two-fold; to get kids engaged with and more confident around decision makers and to give policy makers the scoop on what kids want from their schools.

15 year old Emmy Ryder is a freshman at Kent Innovation High School; a special high school that teaches core subjects through team projects.

“I think that project based learning is preparing you more for the real world because you’re never going to sit down and take a bubble test when you’re 34-years old and working,” Ryder said.

Ryder told the panelists she thinks sometimes students don’t succeed because they’re “bored out of their minds” during long lectures and reading textbooks.

Eric Reyes, a 17 year old senior at Grand Rapids Montessouri High School, shared his struggles in what he called a “tough neighborhood” on the city’s southeast side. He told panelists students need to know how important a good education is for their futures.

“A stronger education it widens your mind. It gives you different opportunities to go out and grab something that you want. It also separates you from others,” Reyes said.

Students said they were encouraged that the city, school and political leaders seemed to be paying attention; that they were taking notes.

“I feel like they took this to heart and they’re really going to try to make a difference,” Ryder said.

Wendy Falb, who’s president of the Grand Rapids Public Schools board of education, was “very impressed” with what students had to say.

“Sometimes at these types of exchanges I think young people or students are careful about what they’re saying,” Falb said. But not today, she said.

“I felt there was some very specific candid observations about what was going on in their lives in education and that makes it a lot more helpful to address things,” Falb said.

“It was a very productive morning and I’m going to get to work on what I heard,” she said.                          

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.