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Students Bring Concerns from Classroom to Council

Present Research from Study on Human Trafficking


East Lee High School students recently served as a voice for the millions of victims of human trafficking worldwide, including thousands in West Michigan, by making a presentation to the Grandville City Council in support of a proclamation.

Seniors Mitzi Hernandez and Jadon DeBri delivered research prior to the Grandville City Council’s unanimous approval of a declaration proclaiming January “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.” Justin Noordhoek, the students’ social studies teacher, is a council member.

Mitzi and Jadon’s presentation was the result of a study last school year on the Holocaust, which Noordhoek and English teacher Sarah Byrne use as a launching point into a collaborative unit on Modern Crimes Against Humanity. Students at the alternative high school chose to study human trafficking, blood diamonds, child soldiers, life in North Korea, and genocide in Darfur.

Mitzi said human trafficking is an issue many need to know more about.

“It’s a situation we don’t see and we don’t think it is happening, but it really is,” Mitzi said. “It’s crazy how many boys and girls are impacted by this. I felt like it was important for me to go to the City Council because I feel like there should be more awareness about what’s going on.”

The students presented the facts, based on estimates from Women at Risk International, which has locations in Wyoming and Rockford, including that 2,400 minors are being trafficked in West Michigan at any time. Michigan ranked second in 2015 for most incidents of human trafficking because its international border makes it ideal for traffickers. It remains in the top 10.

People are trafficked for prostitution, forced labor, illegal adoption, forced marriages, drug trafficking and even organ transplants. The average cost of a slave is $90.

Making A Difference

For their Modern Crimes Against Humanity projects, students researched facts and news articles, studied the perspective of individuals affected and created newscasts. Noordhoek and Byrne use project-based learning in their teaching, which involves making community connections and working to help solve problems. Noordhoek said his connection with the council offered a great platform.

“They can directly connect what they are learning in school to the real world,” he said. “They saw that actual process in action of, ‘Wow, this actually went somewhere. Government is recognizing this topic we are studying and I played a role in that.’

“For the City Council,” he added, “I just think it’s really fantastic when you have students, young people, acting as leaders and bringing attention to a topic to people in position of leadership that maybe otherwise no one would be a voice for.”

For Mitzi, she’s gained the confidence to address other issues she feels strongly about.

“We should do more and bring out more awareness of many things,” she said. “We should be united. We have to start small to make something big.

“This is making me a stronger person, showing me I can make a change and encouraging me to do more.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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