DeWitt's Creative Class(room)

DeWitt High School
teachers Jason LaFay and Jeff Croley are working to connect their creative-minded students to their community in a way that benefits both the students and region. Their vision is the driving force behind the DeWitt Creativity Group.

The group’s main focus is to promote student creativity in connection with public service and entrepreneurialism. Formed in 2008, the collection of students, teachers, community members and parents, are well on their way to changing the entrepreneurial, creative and community environment in DeWitt.

“I’ve been loving the group,” says Eric Kupsis, a former Dewitt High School student. Kupsis was recently involved in organizing River Bash, a local art show featuring the work of Dewitt Creativity Group members.

“When I was a student I was always looking for creative outlets,” he says.

And that’s exactly what the Dewitt Creativity Group does by providing a creative outlet for DeWitt’s young and talented.

Into the Community

With 60 to 100 members working on various activities throughout the year, the DeWitt Creativity Group does everything from organizing art shows to designing skate parks. Members are typically 14-to-18 years old, though a few college students and former students like Kupsis also participate.

Comprised of members from high school organizations including the Radio Club, Theater Department, Art Department, Audio/Visual Club, Music Club, Alternative Energy Program, Newspaper and Creative Writing Club, the Dewitt Creativity Group brings students in these groups together so they can work as one, bringing creativity into the community and exposing their talent.

If a student is interested in being a member of the group, they simply ask. “When a student comes to me and says, ‘Who can be in it?’ we say, ‘You're in it’,” says Croley.

The group's projects include a range of creative endeavors, from student-created video and art displayed at community art shows; events such as River Bash; and a film festival. The film festival, for the past two years, was organized by students to showcase videos produced during the school year. The group intends to get involved in more projects that allow students to interact with community members and businesses.

“We hope to capture the imagination of students so they can initiate creative projects,” says Lafay.

One upcoming project involves a possible skate park in Dewitt. Students will have the opportunity to provide input into its design and construction.

The group may also act as an incubator for young entrepreneurs by providing space for young entrepreneurs and other resources that are available to small businesses.

Center of the Action

The DeWitt Creative Group acquired space in the Riverview Office Centre in downtown Dewitt for a creativity center. The space will be used for poetry readings and other performances. If a student expresses an entrepreneurial interest, part of the space could be used to provide a place to launch a small business, such as graphic design business or a novelty t-shirt business.

The group is already working on raising $50,000 to lease a larger space within the building. The creativity center is typically open in the late afternoons and early evenings.

“We’ve enlisted the help of Michigan State University (MSU) students to staff the center,” says Croley, who is also working with MSU to engage its students in group projects for internship credit.

Lafay and Croley say creativity is something students can learn and use in future careers, but that it can be used to contribute to the community today.

“I believe college is too late to get them involved in community,” Lafay says, adding that students should be encouraged to use creativity to make an impact on their surroundings outside of the high school setting. “If you want to capture the excitement of kids, you have to shoot high.”

Lafay also says there’s a gap between what schools are doing to prepare students for the emerging creative economy. They're hoping to create more opportunities for students to work with the public and private entities in the Capital region that are focusiong on transforming the region into the New Economy—a new paradigm that requires critical thinking, technological proficiency, networking, constant reinvention of self, and the ability to design and implement innovative concepts and practices.

The group arranged for several high school students to attend the Creative Cities Summit 2.0, the Michigan Prosperity Summit and the Michigan Energy Fair, events that are typically targeting adults. By involving them in these events, the students are empowered to discuss and collaborate on current local economic issues.
Building a Network
Lafay says the group has been networking with developers and local businesses to gain exposure and achieve collaboration.

“Visibility and presence is important,” he says.

The DeWitt Creativity Group and the DeWitt Downtown Development Authority are creating the Community Economic Service Initiative (CESI) to provide free services such as marketing, energy conservation and information technologies for businesses. When asked other ways in which businesses might get involved, LaFay suggests business owners might offer student internships or job shadowing.
“We encourage people in the business world to make suggestions and collaborate with us,” he says.

The students also recently partnered with Redhead Design Studio in Lansing's Old Town to create the group's new website, and have joined the Social Media Society which provides members with the latest innovations and research on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, You Tube, etc. The Dewitt Creativity Group will use the Social Media Society to network with media professionals to create educational opportunities for students.
It’s important to LaFay and Croley to show students they can get involved while they are still in high school.

“I think it makes students see why their education is important and that it can be used in the community,” LaFay says.
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Deborah Richmond is a freelance writer, social media coach and owner of Tekkbuzz Internet Marketing. 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Jeff Croley (left) and Jason LaFay

A scene from the production of “Our Town”

Students working on PhotoShop projects

The student-run radio station

Adjusting lights for a theater production

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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