Students address real-world problems

Krystle Wagner • Aug 2, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Some local middle school students are working with West Michigan businesses to gain real-world experiences this week.

Almost 90 students from 12 area school districts and homeschools are working to find solutions to challenges facing 13 employers through the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s futurePREP’d program called IChallengeUth.

Today, the students will present their solutions to a panel and receive feedback. On Friday, they will make presentations to their business partners.

Teachers have been the facilitators to guide the students through project-based learning and design thinking. Rachel Kooiker and Katie Ingram, who are working with students partnering with Health Pointe, said it’s student-driven and their role is to stay out of the idea process and presentations.

“They learn more because they’re doing the work,” said Ingram, a sixth-grade teacher at White Pines Intermediate School.

The group working with Health Pointe is developing a solution for this question: “What kind of programs or workshops would you institute at your school and in the doctor’s office that would raise awareness on mental health?” In part of their process, they created empathy maps to help put themselves in the shoes of people impacted by a mental health struggle — such as a student, parent, teacher, bully and medical personnel.

On Wednesday, they narrowed down their group of ideas, which included after-school clubs for students who are struggling with mental health, email blasts with advice or tips, and assemblies to help raise awareness about the symptoms and resources available.

Lakeshore Middle School seventh-graders Charlotte Bublitz and Jocelyn Tolliver said they participated in IChallengeUth for the real-world experiences. They’ve also learned about working in a group, the 12-year-old girls said.

Health Pointe Executive Director Josh Troast said partnering for the program is a great opportunity to provide insight and the perspectives of youth. Hearing and seeing the students’ work so far has been “intriguing,” he said.

The program gives educators and business leaders the chance to see what students are capable of accomplishing, Ingram said.


Kooiker, who also participated in the summer program last year, said she saw students transform and grow on individual levels.


“I’m consistently impressed with how serious they take it,” she said.

Kooiker said she believes the program is the most impactful professional development for teachers.

Districts involved in the IChallengeUth program include: Grand Haven Area Public Schools, Holland Christian Schools, Allendale Christian and public schools, Hamilton Community Schools, Black River Public School, Holland Public Schools, West Ottawa Public Schools, Jenison Public Schools, Hudsonville Public Schools, and Zeeland Christian and public schools.

Participating businesses include: Health Pointe, Ottawa County Parks and Recreation, Cento Anni Custom Woodworking, Herman Miller, JR Automation, Haworth, City of Holland, Discovery Days Learning Center, Resthaven, Metal Flow, Porter Corp., Trans-Matic Manufacturing Co., and Suburban Inns.

In July, 65 students from local high schools participated in the IChallengeU program.

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