Before leaving for spring break, several classrooms received news that their projects proposed through the Spark Tank competition will each receive $800 from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council.
About $15,200 will be awarded overall. That amount includes anticipated funding for four projects that will be presented after spring break, said Lauren Grevel, education and youth initiatives officer for the local community foundation.
Some of the projects that received funding include hallway seating areas, buddy benches, a courtyard makeover and biodegradable straws. One fourth-grade class will present four ideas after spring break.
“We started this initiative with the overall goal of empowering youth and letting them know that their voices are heard and that their ideas matter,” Grevel said.
Before launching the Spark (which is an acronym for Students’ Positive Actions Recharge Kindness) Tank, the youth council set aside a range of money for the initiative. Given the number of projects and the funding, Grevel said they funded most of the submitted projects.
Last week, the youth council heard the student-led presentations about ways they planned to make their school a better place.
“We already knew we have phenomenal school districts and educators, but the kids blew us away,” Grevel said. “They were so enthusiastic and excited about their ideas, and their passion shined through.”
Erin Shillinger’s second-graders received funding to create a space for students to work together, support each other’s love of reading and form positive relationships. The next day, the Robinson Elementary School class found a sealed envelope in their room with the results of the contest.
Shillinger said the news was met with high-fives, fist pumping and a discussion about how they can get started. Students will begin exploring reading nooks, kid-friendly furniture and décor to create an engaging and fun space for students to work together, the teacher said.
Shillinger thanked the youth council for providing students with the opportunity.
“Through this experience, my students learned how to respect one another’s creativity and the value of working as a team to come up with a shared goal,” she said.
When Annie Ratke’s fourth-grade class started brainstorming, they considered vocabulary words and definitions around the words “legacy, environment and culture.”
“I think this really set the stage for students to understand the potential impact their ideas could have in our school community,” she said.
The Peach Plains Elementary School class received approval for a service club to learn about ways of giving back to the community and promote fundraising and awareness about organizations; a “hammocks/chilaxing space on the playground for third- and fourth-graders”; a makers-space to be creative with art, building sculptures and a Lego wall; papasan chairs for reading in the hallways and library; buoy chairs and hoki stools to “wiggle and wobble” while in class; and a unique abilities club for students with disabilities to form friendships and connect with classmates during games and other social skill-building activities.
Since students gained empathy through investigating, creating ideas and finding ideas, receiving feedback and developing presentations empowered the kids, Ratke said. She said the class looks forward to collaborating with Principal Kate Drake and the school’s PTO to help the plans take shape before the end of the school year.
Grevel said they hope to continue Spark Tank in the future.
Grevel noted that the youth council started as a result of community support and a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1989 and 1990 to get youth involved in volunteering and philanthropy.
“Impacting youth is at the very core of our program, and I can’t think of a better way to accomplish this,” she said. “These high school students have recognized a need to involve all students in our district in philanthropy and decision-making, and work really hard to look at the needs of the youth in our community and work on ways to make an impact. They also understand that these needs change and that they need to be willing and ready to change their strategy at the drop of a hat.”
The youth council is currently looking for new members. Students who will be sophomores or juniors this coming fall and live in the Tri-Cities area can apply. Applications can be found online at www.ghacf.org/youth.