Competition aims to empower students, improve schools

Krystle Wagner • Mar 27, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Students have envisioned ways they plan to make their school a better place.

On Monday, students started pitching those ideas as part of the Spark Tank competition through the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC).

After hearing all of the presentations, members of the YAC will decide which projects will each receive $800. The group looks to fund at least one project at each school presenting, and possibly more projects, said Lauren Grevel, education and youth initiatives officer for the local community foundation.

Between $15,000 and $20,000 is set aside in the YAC’s 2018 budget for the chosen ideas, Grevel said.

“They’re trying to empower students to be the change in their school,” she noted.

Seventeen groups applied for Spark (Students’ Positive Actions Recharge Kindness) Tank, which is in its first year. From that list, the youth council narrowed the submission down to several groups who are presenting their ideas this week.

On Monday, third-graders in Cameron Hewitt’s class at Ferry Elementary School made a presentation about comfortable and collaborative furniture that would be used in the school’s hallway.

Sevanah Chittenden, 9, said they had “many good ideas,” and they spent time researching before narrowing their ideas down to the new furniture, which would include whiteboards, tables and chairs. Some of the group’s other ideas included Amazon Echoes for classrooms, mini-cubbies, a homework room, drama club, news team for the school and water bottle holders.

Although third-graders Kolton Batka and Chittenden were nervous before the presentation, they said they felt confident about their idea standing a chance at receiving the funding. Batka said that younger students might see the furniture and get excited to be able to use it when they’re in third grade.

Throughout the afternoon, other classes made presentations about upgrading a school garden and adding buddy benches (a place where students can sit if they are looking for someone to play with at recess, and other students know to invite those students to play).

White Pines Intermediate School fifth-graders made their pitch on switching from plastic straws to paper biodegradable straws, and helping change habits from using straws in general. During their presentation, the group said they initially considered steel and glass straws, but they learned that would be a challenge to clean at school.

The youth council will continue hearing presentations today and Wednesday.

Grand Haven High School junior Ellen Stolarski said it’s heartwarming hearing the ways students want to make their schools a better place.

Through participating in Spark Tank, GHHS sophomore Olivia Perrier said she hopes the students know that even though they are young, they have a voice and people listen.

“They have really cool ideas,” she said.

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