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Connection via Mario Kart? New podcast pairs superintendent with students

‘Red Hawk Rivals’ debut episode out now

Cedar Springs — Goals, aspirations, dream celebrity meetups, life lessons, the Beatles — these are just a few of the topics Superintendent Scott Smith recently discussed with senior Jack Cairy over a heated game of Mario Kart at Cedar Springs High School.

The setup is the format for a new podcast, “Red Hawk Rivals,” which uses friendly competition to spur conversation between Smith and a different student each month, said co-producers Evan Mattson and Ian VanderLugt, both seniors.

Smith reached out to Evan and Ian, who also run the “Hawk’s Nest” podcast, to see if it would be possible to start up a series that allowed him to get to know students while engaging in some kind of activity they enjoy. 

Listen to ‘Red Hawk Rivals’:
“Red Hawk Rivals” Episode 1 

Evan and Ian saw potential in the idea.

“I feel like I don’t see superintendents of other schools really interacting with kids a lot of the time, and I feel like that would be a really cool thing to showcase,” Evan said. 

The two seniors are “behind the scenes, making everything, planning it, scripting it, putting it all together,” Ian said, while the focus is on Smith and the guest student of the day.

For the inaugural episode, filmed in mid-February and now available on the district’s CS Red Hawk Nation YouTube page, Evan and Ian hustled to issue challenges (having to play with the controller behind their back, as Smith did for one round), rewards (a bag of Fritos for Jack) and conversation prompts to the competitors.

Breaking the Ice

As for those discussion topics, they yielded interesting results during the first episode, spinning off into other avenues of dialogue.

On the matter of the Beatles in the streaming era, “I don’t think they would have been as popular (today),” Jack said. 

“Really?” Smith replied, shocked.

“I think that trends and things that people like come and go a lot faster, so I think it would have been a thing where people liked it and then they moved on,” Jack said.

And that’s coming from a Beatles fan. Jack picked Paul McCartney as the celebrity he’d most like to meet, while Smith went with Oprah Winfrey.

A prompt for Jack asked about his hopes for after graduation.

“I want to do something I actually enjoy, so I’m not stuck in a job that I don’t really love,” the senior said. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I think I definitely want to do something I’m proud of.”

Smith told him that’s a great approach. 

“In terms of your job, if you can find something that fills your bucket, that gives you life — something you’re really good at and something the world needs you to do — you’re gonna be pretty fulfilled,” he said. 

The superintendent also said the best piece of advice he’s ever received came from his wife, who encouraged him to value the time he has and the people he spends it with. He passed that along to Jack during their conversation.

“Be grateful for who you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing,” Smith said, “because in life, when things are fast-paced like a game of Mario Kart, you can get too far ahead and lose sight of where you are. … Then you miss out.”

‘We’re playing a game, but we also have an opportunity to just get to know each other, share a little space and share a little life.’

— Superintendent Scott Smith

Getting to Know Students

After the games wrapped up, Jack — picked for episode one because he’s friends with Ian and Evan, who knew he loved video games — said he sees the value in pairing Smith with a rotating cast of students.

“When does an average kid come into contact with the superintendent on a daily basis?” Jack said. “I think it’s good to get a chance to be able to connect, one-on-one, and for people to see who’s leading the school, who’s making these big decisions.”

Smith said the podcast gives him a chance to do one of the most important parts of his job: connecting with students.

“We’re playing a game, but we also have an opportunity to just get to know each other, share a little space and share a little life,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Evan and Ian hope to release an episode of “Red Hawk Rivals” every month, with different competitive activities lining up with the interests and grade level of the featured students. Future episodes are expected to include elementary and middle school students, and might involve games of chess, basketball, corn hole or something else, Ian said.

Smith said he’s up for it.

“I’m always looking for ways to get to know students better, because, to me, if you know your students you’ll be able to do a better job of serving your students.” 

Editor’s note: As part of an effort to publish more student-created content, School News Network will continue to share the “Red Hawk Rivals” podcast in our Student Voices section as episodes become available.

Read more from Cedar Springs: 
Reenactors bring Middle Ages to life
Snowboarding a ‘rush of adrenaline and happiness’ for seventh-grader

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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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