Voices of Youth: Calhoun Area Career Center students reveal positive secrets about their communities

This story is part of a three-month pilot program known as “Voices of Youth in Battle Creek” is sponsored by On the Ground Battle Creek, part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave.

Through words and graphics, 21 students at the Calhoun Area Career Center voiced their opinions about people and places in communities throughout Calhoun County that deserve a closer look.
Their presentations, made on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 were part of a collaboration between the CACC’s Graphic Communications Technology program and a pilot Voices of Youth program offered through Second Wave of Southwest Michigan.
The students, all seniors, split their school day between their home high schools and the CACC. They selected their topics based on a question posed to them by Heidi LaGrow, co-instructor for the Graphic Communications Technology program: What positive secrets should be known to the public about the community?
Those “secrets” identified by the students included a mountain bike and hiking trail in Marshall; a history museum in Olivet; statues of hidden, historical figures in Battle Creek; and a hot-air balloon company in Battle Creek.
Their research involved connecting with community members who were knowledgeable about the topics selected, LaGrow says.
“They needed to get information for the topics they selected and do follow-up interviews and from there they produced their pieces and made the presentations,” she says. “There’s always a product and presentation to wrap up this class assignment.”
Amyah Walker, senior at Marshall High School, whose presentation focused on repairs needed at the Marshall Skate Park.These most recent presentations were made to a panel that included John Hart, Director of Small Business Development for the City of Battle Creek, and Jeff Cotton, VOY Facilitator and Community Engagement Manager for On the Ground Battle Creek, which is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave.
Hart has some familiarity with the Graphic Communications Technology program because some of these students work with him to design marketing and promotional pieces for use by his office.
“In normal times we have five or six students from these classes who work with us to do marketing,” Hart says. “They have done pieces for kayaking on the river, web page design and Facebook. They also have created posters for events like “Spring Into the Arts.”
Hart says he thinks the CACC and the classes offered are a “huge value to the community.”
His eyes scanned the walls of a classroom where the presentations were being held and he said, “Look around these walls and see how professional everything looks” of student-produced posters hanging on the walls.
Megan Owens, senior at Marshall High School, whose presentation focused on the benefits of public art.LaGrow, like her fellow instructors at the CACC, uses a project-based learning model that was introduced during the 2018-19 school year into some programs offered at the CACC.
“In Project Based Learning, students work on an extended project that engages them in addressing a real-world problem or answering a complex question,” according to the Getting Started with Project Based Learning materials released by the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) .
John Larmer, editor in chief at the Buck Institute for Education, says, “Students demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a product or presentation, which they make public to people beyond the classroom. As a result, they develop deep content knowledge as well as 21st century success skills. PBL unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.”
The difference between Project Based Learning and the traditional classroom is that the former is student led, LaGrow says.
“Instead of teachers standing up and lecturing content to students to memorize, the teachers lead them in a process where the students are encouraged to gather and interpret information,” she says.
Audra Kressler, senior at Homer High School, whose presentation focused on the Magic Clouds Balloon Corp. in Battle Creek.Cotton, who led the launch in August of a Voices of Youth program with youth in Battle Creek, says any form of youth engagement reverberates throughout the community, especially when the focus is on social impact issues. The collaboration with the CACC put the focus on the voices of the students and gave them a platform to have their voices heard.
“I wanted youth to highlight their focus areas,” Cotton says. “I wanted them to be expressive. I knew that this was a graphic design class and I wanted them to use whatever approach they wanted to use to highlight something positive.”
As Cotton and Hart saw, the students' approaches were creative and used writing, animation, and drawing to express themselves. Cotton will be working with the students to refine their presentations so that their work could be a resource with action steps for the community.
Paul Schutt, co-founder of Issue Media Group, Second Wave's parent company, says the idea of the VOY program arose in the southeast Michigan and Detroit area, pre-pandemic. In "conversations among community members, there was a concern that young folks, youth, are disconnected from local news; that they have a pretty good handle of what's going on at a national level, but they just don't really track what's going on in the local news as well."
The concern was, Schutt says, "could this lack of connection lead to a lack of civic engagement on really important issues in the community?"
Cotton says he wants young people to have opportunities to write and draw and create about issues that are important to them as a way to express themselves and connect with others who may be concerned about the same things they are.
The students and their presentation topics were:

Simon Collyer: Athens High School - Holy Childhood, the longest-running Native American boarding school.

Ivan Sanchez, Joshua Esquivel and Jared Scovel: all from Battle Creek Central High School - History of Downtown Battle Creek.

Sharnell Fabian Romero: BCC High School - BC Cargo and Margarita 1014, a store there.

Natalie Garcia: Olivet High School - Leila Arboretum.

Nathan Horton: Pennfield High School - Graphic Communications Technology at the CACC

Abigale Keown: Pennfield High School -The importance of small businesses.

Audra Kressler: Homer High School - Magic Clouds Balloon Co.

Alex Lakies: Lakeview High School - Station 66.

Gage McCrimmon: Olivet High School - Hosford House at Olivet College.

Loretha McDonald: BCC High School - Bringing Positivity to BC.

Hanna Nichols: BCC High School - Funding Performing Arts and VOTE!

Megan Owens: Marshall High School - Public Art.

Robynique Patton: Pennfield High School - There is a need for art in BC.

Jaelin Ramsey: Lakeview High School – The many resources at Willard Library.

Madison Sweeter: Tekonsha High School - Harvey’s Farm.

Robert Tate: BCC High School - A local Musician and BCC Senior, Tekeo.

Amyah Walker: Marshall High School - Marshall Skate Park.

Enrique Lerma: Marshall High School - The Dumps, a little-known mountain biking and hiking trail in Marshall.

Destini Bundy: Bellevue High School - The Ruins.

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.