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Putting in the work: Eighth-graders get involved through student ‘jobs’

Cedar Springs — From informing students about important school events to welcoming district newcomers, eighth-graders at Red Hawk Intermediate are getting a bit of work experience and building confidence in the process.

Through a new program launched at the start of the school year by Principal Courtney MacDonald, about 30 eighth-graders have taken on student “jobs” as announcers, student ambassadors, classroom assistants or office helpers. 

The jobs don’t pay or offer credit, but they help students get more involved in the school community, MacDonald said.

‘This has been a really positive thing for them. They have a sense of pride.’

— Red Hawk Intermediate Principal Courtney MacDonald

How it Started

MacDonald introduced the job program because a smaller-scale version of it proved useful during her six years as a classroom teacher.

“Classroom jobs were always a really successful way for me to get kids engaged in school and have ownership over school,” she said. 

For a lot of students, especially those who aren’t engaged in other school activities, having a job fosters a connection to the school, she added.

To land the jobs, candidates went through a mock-interview process during which they had to provide references — most of whom were parents or former teachers — and answer questions about their goals.

“One of the questions we ask them is, what are you hoping to get out of this experience?” MacDonald said. “A lot of them said, more confidence, to learn how to do a job, to be organized (and) to work well with other people. So they really wanted to have some of those experiences.”

‘My mom always told me that I have to prove that I have responsibility and stuff. I (wanted) to do this to show that I have enough responsibility for other things in the future.’

— Red Hawk Intermediate eighth-grader Jaida Kroll

Why ‘Work’?

For some students, it’s a great way to learn new skills or liven up their daily routine. Others, like Tamara Sutton, see it as a way to have a positive impact on their school.

Tamara — or Mara, as she’s known to her friends — is benefiting from her job reading afternoon announcements. She said it’s helped with her shyness.

“What I like most about it is that I actually get to work on speaking out loud in front of others, and it’s improving a little stagefright I have,” she said. “I’ve never liked speaking in front of others, but I started to feel more brave about that.”

But Mara is also using her platform to spread positivity by working inspirational quotes into her broadcasts.

Recently, she wrapped up with a few words of encouragement: “Celebrate your success, learn from your mistakes.”

“It’s just to give a little hope or just some happiness at the end,” Mara said. “I really love doing that because I know I could bring a smile to someone’s face just by saying something to help them feel better.”

Ryan Hess, who’s taken on jobs as a morning announcer and a teacher’s assistant, also makes each broadcast his own by sprinkling daily jokes into the mix.

“Why do you never trust a tree? Because they’re always so shady,” Ryan quipped during a recent broadcast.

Justin Straub, a student ambassador, relishes the opportunity to help others. Justin and other ambassadors greet new students on their first day and help them get the lay of the land.

“Our role as a student ambassador is to make (new students) feel comfortable,” Justin said. 

He noted that when he started at Red Hawk, he sometimes felt like he didn’t belong. So he’s hoping to ease the transition for new students who could feel the same way now. 

“My role is to be like, ‘hey, you’re welcome here. Everybody wants you here. Feel comfortable.’”

Jaida Kroll is one of the teacher assistants, helping preschool, kindergarten and first-grade teachers in their classrooms. She’s hoping the experience will help her build character.

“My mom always told me that I have to prove that I have responsibility and stuff. I (wanted) to do this to show that I have enough responsibility for other things in the future,” Jaida said. 

“And,” she added, “I love kids.”

It’s Paying Off

The program is garnering more and more interest from students, and its benefits have been manifold, MacDonald said.

“It helps them build confidence,” she said. “Some of them are kids that need friends and connections. I’ve seen some of them become friends because they’re working together and doing these activities together.”

Some, like teacher assistant Raelynn Dells, have even spotted potential future career paths. 

“I do it so that I can start now and build it up for my future,” Raelynn said, adding that she hopes to pursue a career in education.

Participating students hope the program continues, and they encourage future eighth-graders to take advantage of it.

“This has been a really positive thing for them,” MacDonald said. “They have a sense of pride.”

Read more from Cedar Springs: 
Credit to Minecraft? Student plans future in engineering
Student podcast goes live at Cedar Springs

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.

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