CONNECTIONS FALL 2018

Living Local Government

HCHS Government Students Rise to Local Challenges

Holland Christian High School Government teacher Josh Rumpsa warned his students NOT to do it. That it was too much work, too much organization for a couple of high school juniors to pull off, and that they could find an easier way to raise money for a new homeless shelter in Holland.

But, they did it anyway.

That was a few years ago, now, but the two junior students were working on their Government class civics engagement Shark Tank project, getting engrossed in their studies of Holland’s homeless situation, and decided they wanted to do their part to help raise money for the next homeless shelter. And what better way to do that, they thought, than by organizing a basketball game between HCHS staff and Holland Police? And charging a $5 entry fee, all proceeds to benefit the homeless shelter?

It was a lot of logistics for a couple of juniors to handle—a facility to secure, refs to hire, marketing to post—but somehow they pulled it off. And over 100 people showed up, together raising $600 for that new shelter. And having a good time in the process.

Another junior government student, just last year, was anxious about all the homework she was dealing with. Through her Government class, she realized that she could actually do something about it, approached Principal DeRuiter last spring, went before the HCS school board, and proposed a new homework policy change—a policy currently under consideration.

“It was an empowering thing for her, “ said Rumpsa. “Students love making a difference within their community—somebody notices an injustice…” he starts, but then trails off to tell yet another enthusiastic story of former students making a difference through their civics project. This time it was about a pair of students who were frustrated by the financial elitism in travel team sports. They presented their idea to the USA travel team soccer board, suggesting that each team sign up and “adopt” a player, covering that individual’s tournament and season expenses, thereby making it possible for less affluent kids to get to play as well.

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I tell students that for the rest of their lives two things will be true: One, there always will be injustice in the world, and second, they will always have a choice, an invitation, to do something about it.

Other students this year, hobby fishermen, studied invasive fish species infesting the Macatawa watershed and decided to do something about that. So they bought themselves a couple of water tridents from VanWieren Hardware, attached them to broomsticks, headed out on a dark spring night when the suckers and gobies were spawning hugely in the small water ditches feeding into Lake Macatawa, and speared away. Then handed all their “catch” over to a local farmer for fertilizer, benefitting local crops in an all-green way.

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It forced us to go out into the community, not just something we could do in the classroom—that makes it worthwhile. It opens so many doors we didn’t know about, doors we never would have had opened for us before.

“The biggest thing I learned is how big a problem [invasive species] is, but that not a lot of people see it as a problem, and it can do a ton of damage,” explained Josh Rozendaal ’19, who worked with classmates Trent Slenk ’19 and Seth Michmerhuizen ’19. “It can destroy the environment, hurt the economy and tourism. It can hurt the salmon industry, and if the area beaches get murky from them and the water isn’t crystal clear any more—then who will want to come swimming here?”

To back up just a bit, “Civics Shark Tank” is a semester-long project in HCHS’s junior Government class that started about seven years ago in an effort to integrate more state-required 21st Century skills—which included more local touchpoints—into the Government curriculum.

“I tell students that for the rest of their lives two things will be true,” explained Josh. “One, there always will be injustice in the world, and second, they will always have a choice, an invitation, to do something about it.”

The list of topics vary by student groups and from year to year, but include things like aquatic invasions, adoption and foster care, human trafficking, trash and recycling, unemployment, immigrants, texting and driving, fake news, homework policies, homelessness.

Students spend one solid week at the beginning of the semester researching and networking for their chosen topic, then spend Mondays the rest of the semester planning their project, practicing each step as they go. Each topic must include a hands-on component in which they perform some type of service for the community, whether it is spreading awareness, raising money, or actually volunteering time or services. Then one evening during the last week of the semester, they give a 10-15 minute presentation describing their local issue before an all-adult panel. “They get exposed to real life topics, get to watch their classmates take action in a cool way—it’s really inspiring,” Josh said. “And it’s such a community building thing.”

And the students are more than happy to talk about their research, to share what they learned in the process, even though it is a great deal of work.

Aaron Kwon ’19 learned with classmates Tim Schlaaf ’19 and Zeke Postma ’19 that the opioid crisis “is a very serious problem” and that “there’s several—eight or nine—rehabs just in the Holland area.” But he also learned about the process: “This project was very interesting for me because I’ve never done this kind of huge project before. It took a lot to prepare to make a strong conclusion—a new experience for me.” And he also learned something spiritual in the meantime: “God uses this problem and solution, which also show the seriousness of the [opioid] situation, but it shows you can’t just do it on your own. You need God to help.”

Emma DeGroat ’19 researched Michigan’s foster care system with Ashley Greydanus ’19, and interviewed several people from Ashley’s church that she never had spoken to before. “It forced us to go out into the community, not just something we could do in the classroom—that makes it worthwhile,” she said. “It opens so many doors we didn’t know about, doors we never would have had opened for us before.”

Parents and panelists also rejoiced in how much the students learned through the project, including not only their topics, but also their community, the process, or life in general.

“Being involved in the community and helping others is a key component of who they are as people and what God expects of them. As a family, we work hard to weave this rhythm into [our children’s] lives,” said Vicky Zylstra, both a parent and panelist. “This project, for both of them, gave them exposure to even more opportunities to serve and to understand how many people ‘really’ live outside our everyday exposure.”

Former board member and parent Stacy Jackson also appreciates HCS getting out into the community: “Trying to make what they’re learning local and relevant, getting out interviewing and talking is just good education,” he said. “This project works against our stereotype in the community that HC is an island. These students become agents of change, it gets them into the community.”

And hopefully an experience that serves as a launch pad for future community engagement.

“We can become too confined to just these halls,” admitted Nicole Larsen ’19, who researched local pregnancy resource efforts with Hannah Douthitt ’19. “It’s important that they push us outside of our comfort zone, and for us to realize that we can do something and have influence for our future. Being able to actually go into our community outside—that it’s not just the grown ups’ job. We have a voice too and can speak about positive aspects of our culture that we’re passionate about.”

It’s important that they push us outside of our comfort zone, and for us to realize that we can do something and have influence for our future. We have a voice too and can speak about positive aspects of our culture that we’re passionate about.