Last semester, students at Jenison High School were offered the chance to take a different kind of class. With teacher Jason Veeneman taking on the role of adviser, students are in the drivers seat answering Ghandi’s call to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Bigger Than You is a service-learning class based on the idea that students will develop empathy for the greater world by choosing a cause and creating opportunities to better it. Mr Veeneman says, “This class is designed for students to develop empathy for their fellow humans. Through visits to Kids’ Food Basket, the Women’s Resource Center, etc., they begin to see some of the ills in our society. From there, they begin to look into the places that they are the most passionate about and want to make a difference”.
The class is offered in the fall in order to allow students to include it on their college applications. This past semester, the class hosted two events as a way to bring encouragement and love to both senior citizens and adults and children with special needs.
Alyssa Vitale, Shelby Nyboer and Kayla Noreen chose to host the Prom and Mr Veeneman shares one students driving passion for this event: her grandmother. “Alyssa had told me the story of having her grandmother living with her as she was suffering from terminal cancer. Her grandmother would tell her stories about when she was younger and how much she loved to dance. Alyssa always loved the smile that this brought to her grandmother’s face, so this “Prom” was a logical choice for her.”
Since the inception of the class, three years ago, students have gravitated towards those in the community with special needs. In previous years, the class has hosted “Miss Outstanding Pageant” and “A Night with the Stars” so hosting a “Night of Dreams” dance was a natural part of that progression.
Both events had excellent turn outs and Mr Veeneman says that all of the attendees had a great time. “The response from the seniors was amazing! They loved learning the new dances that the high school students were teaching them as well as dancing to the oldies. One of my favorite comments from one of the participants was “I never imagined that teenagers could be this much fun! It really changes the way I look at them!””
Students are responsible for all aspects of the event they chose including: fundraising, budget keeping, publicity [create a website, social media presence, invitations], donate remaining funds to the charity of their choosing and develop weekly writings on various articles and video clips and podcasts [TED Talks, Harvard Business Review, etc].
The students have also presented their work on four separate occasions, including the entire student body at the high school. Mr Veeneman also fielded a call from another local school district that would like to talk about having our students present to them as well.
“At the end of the class students write a final analysis and reflection of themselves and just what it is that they took away from the class. It never ceases to amaze me the number of students that say that it was the most stressful and difficult class that they have taken, but also the most rewarding. Past students, to date, have also earned in excess of $225,000 in scholarships that can be directly attributed to the class. Overall, this class has revolutionized the way that students think about the application of what they have learn throughout their social studies classes in high school.”