Throughout the two-week program called IChallengeU, the students work with local organizations and businesses for a hands-on experience as they use problem-solving skills and research.
Ninety sophomores, juniors and seniors from 11 mostly Ottawa County school districts and homeschools are on 13 teams participating in the program. The students are from high schools such as Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Allendale, Black River, Coopersville, Hudsonville, Holland, Jenison, West Ottawa, Saugatuck, Union in Grand Rapids and Zeeland.
Businesses participating in the program include Auto Die, Boys and Girls Club, Code Blue, Coopersville Chamber of Commerce, Disher, GP Reeves, Grand Haven Township Fire/Rescue, Grand Valley State University, Haworth, Holland Energy Park, JR Automation, Kids Food Basket, and Royal Technologies.
Students working with the Grand Haven Township Fire/Rescue department are answering the driving question: “Why do/should we create an internship or cadet program for the fire department? How can I possibly link to the Careerline Tech Center?”
Spring Lake High School sophomore Calvin Force said they altered the initial question to “why” instead of “how” after speaking with Capt. Shawn Schrader of the fire department. Force explained that once they understand the “why” behind creating a program, they would be better able to understand the “how” to develop a program.
To begin the week, students put themselves into the boots and gear of firefighters by participating in a mock fire scenario. They wore the gear and masks as they worked in teams of three to remove a 120-pound dummy from a shed filled with fog machine smoke.
Haley Brosnan, a Spring Lake High School sophomore, said the mock experience was “interesting.” She said she got involved in IChallengeU as a way to gain experience in work places, and she thought it would be fun.
The students spent time during the week researching existing programs throughout the country and what the training entails. They started exploring ways the Careerline Tech Center could be involved in such programs.
Spring Lake High School junior Morgan Whitaker said their solution could help staff the fire department, and also make the community safer by generating an interest to join the department.
Spring Lake High School teacher Jim Warren and Central High School teacher Amy Stringham are facilitators for the group working in Grand Haven Township. Warren and Stringham are guiding students from the initial stage of receiving the question and researching to developing plans and creating a presentation.
By participating in the program, Warren said he hopes the students learn how to be creative and learn differently. Warren noted that students volunteer for the program to advance their learning and to accept the challenge.
As the students gain real-life experiences, educators are also making lesson plans to incorporate project-based learning into their classrooms for the upcoming school year, Warren said.
Next week, the students will present their plans to the organizations and businesses. They will also present their ideas to a panel of judges in Holland.
Selected students will receive scholarships, and two teams will advance to the statewide IChallengeU Challenge in Jackson on July 24.