Students speak, district listens

‘Work is too important to not include them’

Samantha Waite, junior

A strategic plan that will guide the district into the future is expected to be brought to the Board of Education this year.

There have been numerous public forums and a public survey of parents and community members to aid those drafting the plan, but the district is also making sure students’ opinions count.

Sixth- through twelfth-graders were surveyed, and administrators say a student panel will be at the table as the final plan is being drafted.

“Their voice is essential to the process,” Superintendent Scott Smith said. “Our desire is to make decisions with people, not to people. What we do here will impact the students each and every day. This work is too important to not include them in the process.”

Challenge Is Good

Several high-school students touted the value of taking advanced placement classes that allow them to test for college credit, and some suggested that the district find ways to offer more of those classes, especially at the freshman level.

Trevor Johnston, junior

Trevor Johnson

“Everyone should be required to at least try an AP (advanced placement) class. We were not told what to think, but rather how to formulate our thoughts and pose an argument without attacking the other person. I think it is important that everyone at least learn critical thinking and know how to have a logical debate.”

Joe Metiva, junior

Joe Metiva

“I would encourage more AP classes, especially for freshmen. They (classes) are very good at pushing kids toward being a better student and taking harder classes. It is important to find out how much you can do. And it is great that our school found a way to help pay for them. It is really a good idea, and you get the experience them without having to worry about wasting a lot of money if you don’t pass the college credit.”

Elise Kobayashi, sophomore

Elise Kobayashi

“I think the school could explain AP classes a lot better. Many kids don’t take them because it is scary, but really you can’t do bad — maybe you won’t get the college credit, but you will get credit and learn to work a lot harder.”

Students also see value in the middle college program, which allows students to attend high school for five years and finish with both a diploma from Cedar Springs and an associate degree from Grand Rapids Community College.

Audra Labay, junior

Audra Labay

“I would like to see them encourage more students to do it. I think there are more in the next group, but it definitely gets you more involved and prepares you for the real world.”

Community Connections

Students also pointed out the benefits of being involved in the community while in high school. Elise Kobayashi said, “I think it (community involvement) is important, but not sure there are many opportunities now.”

Trevor Johnston and Taryn Troupe mentioned how the FFA (Future Farmers of America) provided opportunities to work outside the high school walls and find ways to benefit the community, and several noted the National Honors Society for its requirement regarding community involvement. Both Joe Metiva and Samantha Waite they found it beneficial in building leadership skills.

Oliva Male, sophomore

Oliva Male

“It was great when we did the community-wide pep rallies. Everyone could come, and we got involved with the community. I would like to see us do more of these that aren’t just for students on campus. I think it is one way we can reach more people in the community.”

Samantha Waite

“NHS really pushed us to have our own influence in the community:  working with kids, interacting with riders (through the equestrian center) and working at the soup kitchen were beneficial for me. Our school should maybe promote this more. They should help the majority of the student body find ways to benefit the community, maybe even during school hours.”

Taryn Troupe, sophomore

Taryn Troupe 

“FFA tries to do a lot with community. We have led preschool classes through the petting farm and hosted a harvest festival for second-graders. But FAA is kind of dwindling, and I wonder if the (high school) members got assigned to a kid, there would be more interest in the future. Also I think it would be good if the school had opportunities of students to do more with little kids in other areas.”

River Oligney had an idea for another way the school could reach out to the community. “I know in the workshop class, they make some things for the school. I am wondering if there is a way we could get more involved in community building projects,” he said.

Learning Life Skills

Some students had ideas for additional classes, and at least one had a suggestion for how students could use technology to learn required material. “I want to go into the medical field, and I would like more hands-on classes or at least classes that would steer us in the direction of a career,” said Oliva Male.

Matthew Reed, junior

Matthew Reed

“I would not necessarily recommend a class in personal finance, but it should be integrated into classes better. Not everyone knows what they will do with algebra II, but life lessons are often incorporated into the lessons.”

River Oligney, sophomore

River Oligney

“Everyone should (be encouraged to) take challenging classes. I took AP world (history) for half the year, got way behind and was planning to drop out. I made up my mind and changed my outlook to focus on history. I have a hard time reading, but learned to study using history apps on YouTube and testing myself on Quizlet online.”

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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