‘Life in the Middle’ is on the air in 3… 2…

Principal’s podcast inspired by students

Luke Saganski speaks as a guest on the Life in the Middle podcast, as classmate Katie Dolan-Baker waits her turn to answer questions

Luke Saganski admitted he’d been trying to figure out a way to be invited to be a guest on his principal’s podcast.

“I’ve listened to all of them, and I think they’re great,” said the Northern Hills Middle School eighth grader.

The nine 5-star reviews so far for the “Life in the Middle” podcast: “That was me,” Luke said with a grin.

Eighth graders, from left, Abby Nelson, Natalie Jelier and Paige McKenzie learn about podcasting

Turns out, all it took to spur an invitation from Principal David Simpson to Luke and three of his classmates was an oft-repeated maxim from Simpson: just be yourself. And share about the awesome things you’re doing.

Luke and classmates Katie Dolan-Baker, Josie Meyer and Ryan Abramowski were on a recent episode to let listeners know about the school’s Martin Luther King Day activities on Monday, which were planned this year by the Global Learners Initiative student ambassadors.

Ryan spoke of the impact the civil rights leader had and why the group thinks honoring his legacy is important.

Added Katie: “I think it’s really important that students here know the impact he had on human rights and civil rights.”

The student guests also spoke about their involvement in the Global Learners Initiative class, and how it has expanded their cultural views and presentation skills.

Luke explained how he honed his problem-solving, critical thinking and communication skills to pitch their plans for the day. Josie talked about how speaking in front of 35 teachers was “pretty scary, but I did feel like I was confident, and confident in my fellow classmates that we would all do very good.”

Principal Source of Inspiration

Simpson said he was inspired to start “Life in the Middle” when he heard last year that some eighth graders wanted to learn about podcasting.

“Students had a PBL (project-based learning) experience with podcasting (but) they didn’t really have the right equipment,” he said. “It gave me the idea to start our own podcast with the intention of learning enough about it so I could help students. 

“As a principal I miss teaching, so I thought this was a great way for me to connect with kids. This shows them that principals learn new things too. It’s been fun to learn, and fun to share that learning.”

Eighth grader Josie Meyer recalls presenting her group’s MLK Day ideas at a recent staff meeting

Grant Impact Keeps Growing

A few basic pieces of equipment were purchased out of the school’s budget, and a grant from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation helped Simpson add equipment to expand the podcast’s capabilities.

Guests so far have included fall sports athletes, thespians fresh off the “Parent Trap” stage, and students involved in PBL activities, including podcasting.

Staff are included as well. In episode 4, counselor Becky Tezlerow spoke about teen vaping, and the unique challenges and milestones of the middle school years. Other guests so far have included special education teacher Angie Posey, physical education teacher Nick Biondo, and Emily Pantoja, the school’s new English language arts teacher.

Simpson, recognized recently by the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association as Region 9 Principal of the Year, said the podcast averages 100 downloads an episode.

Northern Hills staff reaches out to the school family through multiple social media channels, “and I just thought it would be another cool way to bring voice to what we do,” he said. “I think families really value our getting the word out about what we’re doing in the building.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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