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Flipping the script on community support

Students create ways to boost local businesses

A group of high school students are fine-tuning strategies to help boost local restaurants that have supported their schools.

Project NEXT is a 2-year-old project-based learning program at Northern High School whose students identify real-world problems and propose solutions.

Since just after the statewide stay-at-home order to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, students have met online to brainstorm social media posts the restaurants can use to get the word out that they are open for pickup or delivery, and that their operations are safe.

Using Kitchen 67 as a launch point, students are creating ads and posts to promote their pickup/delivery food orders. Teacher Austin Krieg said they hope to adapt strategies to expand their efforts to other area restaurants, and that there could be up to 40 sophomores taking part.

In a recent meeting, students took turns reporting their progress on given tasks, including how to streamline a survey each is charged to conduct with family and friends who get restaurant takeout and delivery.

“They know that we have to think about the consumer: what do they need to hear, and what do they want,” Krieg said. “Students have a lot of ideas, and they are learning that the first lesson of marketing is to find out what people want.

“The more data we have, the clearer our direction will be.”

Payton Schramski relayed to the group some “clean and healthy catch phrases” she was working on.

Michaela Dillbeck shared drafts of social media posts “especially to express that Kitchen 67 is a safe place to eat and that they are following safety guidelines,” she explained.

Lexy Gregory pitched targeting ads to the school community aimed at the notion of reciprocity. For businesses that “do all sorts of things in support of our district, now it’s time to give back,” she said.

Michaela knows firsthand how crucial the messages she and her classmates are crafting are to small businesses. She has worked at a local distillery and restaurant owned by relatives, and said the family was worried about their ability to stay in business.

“Trying to think about them and relate what we’re doing with other businesses, I can definitely see how it can help,” she said of the project.

A screenshot of a social media post prototype created by Northern High sophomore Payton Schramski

Industry Month, At-home Edition

Every student who takes part will turn in a Google folder with everything they worked on themselves. They also are charged to collaborate outside regular twice-weekly video meetings. They will be graded in each subject covered, he said, from English and writing to social studies, which may include studying another event in U.S. history that had great impact and analyzing the current one.

Before the mandated school shutdown, Project NEXT students had just begun “industry month”, aimed at focusing on career and college readiness. Students were working with five businesses, including Kitchen 67 and marketing research firm Advantage Research Services

Companies had each provided a problem statement to present to students, who were set to visit the businesses, learn how to conduct market research and develop strategies to pitch solutions in person to company representatives.

“I really wanted to move forward with (the restaurant project) because I was super excited to marry industry with learning,” Krieg said. “The restaurant industry is getting absolutely pummeled right now, so we thought maybe it would be interesting to partner with them, to do some promotional initiatives students could work on digitally.”

Advantage Research owner David Sukolowski sat in on a meeting. His firm also is helping students develop survey questions and analyze data. After seeing initial designs he told students, “You guys are doing an awesome job pulling in that data and making it pertinent to our project.”

Working with local business owners, Krieg said students “have been indoctrinated with how hard these businesses have been hit. They are able to understand that it has a domino effect, and gain a perspective about how interdependent one business is with so many others.”

Michaela said the project — and Project NEXT as a whole — has given her some personal perspective as well, in that it has helped her practice reaching out and talking to those outside her usual circle.

“I feel a lot more confident talking to adults and professionals, and it has shown me that people actually want to listen to what students have to say.”

There’s More

Another Forest Hills school family is reaching out to help local businesses that have helped them.

Eastern High recently partnered with local company RADco Apparel to sell Hawk Pride gear to district families. In turn, $5 per item was set aside for a few local restaurants that regularly support the school, including Kitchen 67, Licari’s Sicilian Pizza Kitchen and Herb & Fire Pizza.

Eastern Athletic Supervisor Ben Sherman said just shy of $500 was raised to be shared among the three restaurants.

A recent video discussion amongst Northern High sophomores in Project NEXT who are developing a campaign to promote local restaurants that have supported their school. From top at right: Teacher Austin Krieg, Kaylana Beelen, Preston Sokolowski, Payton Schramski and Michaela Dillbeck
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She 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


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