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CTE changed his life – he wants more students to benefit

Kent ISD— Jack Munn knows firsthand that project-based learning can spark an excitement for school that some students might never experience otherwise. 

He also says that while career and technical education classes help many chart their course after high school, the equipment, class offerings and available certifications at the programs he attends could be doing more.

So making the case for more CTE funding was a role Jack had little problem stepping into earlier this school year. He traveled to Washington D.C. as part of his involvement in SkillsUSA, a national organization for students enrolled in CTE programs. Jack is this year’s Michigan president.

Once there with about 350 other U.S. students as part of the annual Washington Leadership Training Institute, Jack and two other Michigan students, both from Saginaw, met via video chat with an aide for state congressman Dan Kilde, and face-to-face with John Moolenaar.

Jack said the SkillsUSA framework has helped him hone his personal, academic and leadership skills

“The whole point was to talk on behalf of CTE schools and what it means to us,” Jack recalled. “We told them how much we would appreciate increased funding for CTE. The aide said they would push for more on a federal level.”

It was the first time he met with a lawmaker, and likely thanks to his natural enthusiasm and his leadership training via SkillsUSA, Jack said the experience was “very casual, very down to earth, a lot less stressful than I was expecting.”

Tech Center Principal Joe Lienesch said having a student advocate to lawmakers for more funding is particularly meaningful.

“Developing leadership skills is such an important part of CTE. We know that bringing student voice to anything provides real meaning. We’re trying to develop them as 21st century learners … Having the opportunity to use those skills beyond the classroom and out in the real world makes it so impactful.”

Jack Munn runs through a ‘traffic stop with warrant’ scenario with classmate and fellow cadet Abraham Vandenhoek

‘Here, I Want to be Early’

The Kent City senior has attended Kent Innovation High since January 2020, and also takes classes online through MySchool@Kent. He took his first Kent Career Tech Center class — design lab — during sophomore year. He said the schools’ project-based learning and hands-on approaches have made it easier for him to keep up his grades and pay attention.

“My first visit just made me realize how much I needed that. I absolutely enjoy going to school every day. Most years in school it’s been really hard for me to be on time. Here, I want to be early.”

He currently is enrolled in the Tech Center’s criminal justice program, and is a member of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Explorers program. He hopes to earn an undergraduate degree in criminology from Eastern Michigan University, and plans to one day become a patrol officer or member of a medical response e-unit, and said the CJ program “really helped me get more involved with my community and develop as a person.”

“What really is different with CTE is we get a lot of experience with industry professionals. Secret service, local law enforcement… It’s just a lot different to have them come out and work with us, and get to see what it’s like and hear their stories. CTE is the whole reason it’s all enjoyable.”

But, “I definitely see it needs more funding,” Jack said. “There’s a lot of programs that the equipment is outdated or there isn’t enough, and they could allow for more certifications. Some classes are hard to get into because so many people want to take them, at least that’s how it feels on the student end.”

As president of SkillsUSA Michigan, Jack is also in charge of student leadership training throughout the state.

Alane Rozelle, SkillsUSA adviser, said she was hesitant when she first heard Jack was interested in joining and having a leadership role in the group, especially when so much still has to happen virtually. Now, she said, “He’s taking things off my plate.”

Congressman John Moolenaar, third from left, was visited in Washington D.C. by SkillsUSA members, from left, Sam Dittmar, Jack Munn, Nick Shepich, Elizabeth Stuber and Julie Ivan

Natural Leader Just Gets It Done

Jack thinks his natural leadership abilities come from his participation in Boy Scouts. He joined with his best friend, Zach, while in first grade, ran troop meetings and camp-outs, and is still involved. “I have four more merit badges to earn, then my Eagle project.”

With an already full school plate, he said he was hesitant to take on SkillsUSA duties, but his instructors encouraged him to try. “I’ve really embraced it now, and I’m very glad I did it.”

And while he recognizes that his leadership abilities are developing, he said his confidence comes from not thinking about it. “I just think my goal is to get done what we need to get done.”

Jack Munn, right, and fellow criminal justice cadet Abraham Vandenhoek listen to a scenario debriefing from instructor Colby Kempf
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and 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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