- Sponsorship -

‘It might spark a desire to want to change something’

Trio of students launch speaker series

After Jalen Finn read an article about how much less economic investment Grand Rapids’ Third Ward was receiving than other wards, he mentioned it to Rodney Brown, principal of Grand Rapids Learning Center at Grand Rapids Community College.

“I saw the mLive article and I was like, ‘What?’ It just surprised me,” said Jalen who lives in the Third Ward and takes dual enrollment GRCC courses at the Learning Center.

It motivated him to examine the city map.“I was like ‘oh my gosh, a lot more people than I think live there.’ ”

He also learned the ward has the highest percentage of African Americans, at 33.7 percent.

According to the article posted in October by reporter Justin P. Hicks, the Third Ward, which covers roughly one-third of the city’s land size and population, received $19.4 million — or 1.5 percent — of the $1.29 billion in private investments supported by the city’s economic development programs in 2012-17. That’s compared to $750 million and $516 million invested in the First Ward and Second Ward, respectively.

“(That’s) scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Jalen said.

Brown, impressed with Jalen’s interest in the topic, contacted an expert: Grand Rapids Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear, who has advocated for improved equity in investment.

Grand Rapids Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear visits with students and Learning Center staff members

Launching a Series

Jalen and classmates Miguel Hererra and Elijah Mikel were inspired to learn more by having Lenear speak on the topic. She was the first guest for the Lunch & Learn series, created by the trio, to bring in people representing different careers and backgrounds to speak on various topics. They plan to host four to six sessions this school year.

Lenear, a Creston High School and Cornerstone University graduate, spoke about her reaction to learning about the scale of inequity at a city workshop. “Why is everything happening downtown? We want the same type of thing for the businesses in our neighborhood.”

She also spoke about how young people can get involved in civics and  about her own trajectory from interested citizen to Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education member and city commissioner. 

The students say they are considering their next steps to advocate for improved equity.

“I know we are just three students in a high school, but we definitely have some ideas,” Jalen said.

Having Lenear speak is a start, Elijah said. “Bringing in someone like the commissioner helps bring awareness and puts a visual on how big the inequities really are. I feel like it might spark a desire to want to change something.”

Added Miguel: “People need to acknowledge the fact that it’s affecting them, whether they know it or not.”

The students already have in mind athletes, an architect, local politicians and musicians for the sessions, which combine conversations with students and lunch. 

Miguel Hererra is a student leader who helped launch the Lunch and Learn series

A Blending High School/College

The Learning Center, a seven-year-old partnership between Grand Rapids Public Schools and GRCC, is the only high school located on a college campus in West Michigan, Brown said. It currently enrolls about 80 students seeking to catch up on credits through online classes, earn college credits and learn about careers to transition into college and workforce training. The school is at GRCC’s DeVos Campus, 415 E. Fulton St.

Students attend for four hours in the morning or afternoon Monday through Thursday to take courses online. They attend regular GRCC classes. To enroll, students must have sophomore-level high school credits. 

“We have a variety of students from all kinds of academic backgrounds,” said Lamont Vines, Learning Center Transition specialist.

The program also exposes students to a college campus, Vines said. “It gives them that experience to blend in with college students and get that feel.”

Jalen, Elijah and Miguel are all ahead in their classes and said they started the series to enrich their own knowledge and that of others.

“As of right now, we are just three students in a unique position that want to think outside of the box,” Elijah said.

Grand Rapids Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear takes part in the event with students, from left, Elijah Mikel and Jalen Finn
- Sponsorship -
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.

LATEST ARTICLES

Longtime volunteer does whatever’s needed for school: ‘I love being here’

A 24-year parent and grandparent volunteer tends to student and family needs at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy...

Lessons from a pandemic: ‘agile learners’ need ‘agile adults’

Reflecting on the end of fall semester and 2020, Superintendent Dedrick Martin sat down with School News Network to discuss how Caledonia adapted to school closures, virtual learning and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic...

It’s all about getting students back to classrooms, Supt. Shibler says of the vaccine

Superintendent Michael Shibler hopes the more people get vaccinated, the closer we are to the end of the pandemic...

Young constitutional scholars view current events, politics through historical lens

East Grand Rapids and East Kentwood high school We the People team members have qualified for the national competition, becoming well versed in civics and critical thinking along the way...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Longtime volunteer does whatever’s needed for school: ‘I love being here’

A 24-year parent and grandparent volunteer tends to student and family needs at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy...

Back to classrooms for GRPS students — finally

After 44 weeks and 4 days, GRPS students were back in their classrooms Tuesday...

Online poetry, multimedia course encourages mental well-being for middle schoolers

A Grand Rapids nonprofit has made online writing and mental health materials available free of charge. At least one local middle-school teacher says the series is powerful and helps build community among classmates...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS