A visit to Harrison Park Academy by Representative Hillary Scholten not only allowed sixth-grade scholars there to meet their Congresswoman but also to interview her as part of a documentary project they are working on in partnership with the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology or WMCAT.
The visit was exactly what sixth-grade teacher Maximilian Young had hoped it would be when the initial planning began, and, he added, it was illustrative of what the partnership between Harrison Park and WMCAT has been all about for the past four years.
“WMCAT has been one of the best neighborhood partners we could ask for at Harrison,” Young said. “They make education fun and show scholars that learning can be done not just in the classroom, but through activities that they want to do. This can be video production, graphic design, watercolor, photography, game design and more. And we are honored to be the youngest group they work with because they primarily work with teenagers and young adults.”
A 2017 graduate of Michigan State, Young is now in his fifth year at Harrison Park and helped put the partnership with WMCAT in place in his second year. One of the powerful places of connection has become WMCAT's Arts + Tech programming which includes Daytime Studios – field trips, workshops and semester-long arts and technology experiences.
This year, Daytime Studios gave Young’s Harrison Park scholars an introduction into some basic video skills, after which they began to discuss how to put those skills into action around the topic of “How do we see ourselves within the community?”
His sixth graders landed on the idea of politics. Specifically, they were interested in interviewing someone in politics as part of a video documentary project and podcast. So, Mike Saunders, WMCAT program manager, reached out to Rep. Scholten's team through her website, Scholten said yes, and the visit began to take shape.
Young said one of his goals for the visit was for his scholars to be able to explain what community means to them and how they can use art and technology to express themselves. They also created their own interview questions that they wanted to ask Rep. Scholten for the documentary and podcast.
The visit left an impression, Young said. “What my scholars took away most was that this was a person with the power to make change,” he said. “But the visit also allowed them to see her as a person that they can communicate with directly and have their voice actually heard.”
The visit also made an impression on Young and reinforced everything he loves about teaching. “I want to build lifelong learners who know how to succeed both inside and outside the classroom,” he said simply.
Heather Thompson, Harrison Park principal, agreed.
“This was such an amazing experience for our scholars,” she said. “Students asked great questions, and Rep. Scholten was so excited, she wants to come back. She also invited our eighth-grade scholars who are going to (Washington) D.C. to take a tour with her while they are there.”
Because of the success of the Scholten visit, Young and the WMCAT staff now have their sights set on guest speakers for the seventh- and eighth-grade students too. The seventh-grade students are focusing on sports and hoping to bring a player from the Grand Rapids Gold to their campus, while eighth-grade students are focusing on education and hoping to invite Michael Rice, superintendent of public instruction for the state.
Megan Lorenz, director of communications + strategy for WMCAT, said that at the end of May, WMCAT will be hosting an exhibition showing all Harrison Park student work from this year's Daytime Studios, including the final project featuring Rep. Scholten.