Our School Spirit Challenge is coming up fast! It's four weeks from today on Friday Dec. 15 -- and this year, we wanted to make our coverage bigger and better than ever by highlighting some of the amazing schools that are participating.

The WZZM 13 Morning News kicked things off at Creekside Middle School in Zeeland. At Creekside, it's the student council that organizes the Toys for Tots School Spirit Challenge every year. Dozens of students joined Meredith live Friday, Nov. 17, to help kick things off.

I highlighted some fantastic programs happening at Creekside that really make it a special place to go to school. One of them is called the Links program.

Once a week, for 30 minutes, students with autism and general education students gather in Ms. Wojeik's classroom to have conversations, read and play board games. The interactions help the autistic students practice their social skills and calm stress.

"I get to hang out with my newly made friends," said Alex, who has autism. "It's really fun, you get to play games, you get to talk to each other.

"It relieves stress and if I'm in a bad mood I can talk with my buddies."

Each autistic student has one or two buddies that they are partnered with and everyone benefits. "I get to meet new people and have more friends and show other people how fun autistic kids are," said Mackenzye Van Geest, a 7th grader. "They really are affectionate and they really like to be kind."

"If they are stressed about a class we can help them forget about the stress that they had," explained Abigail Ridlington, also in 7th grade.

"They have a lot of friends in their ASD classroom, but a lot of times they don't know students in their lunch or in their classes, so this helps to have conversations with people that they wouldn't usually have," explained Ms. Wojeik. "It also helps the general education students to know more about autism and what that means and how we can support those students too."

Something else that makes Creekside special is the way the school has embraced the Be Nice program.

"We just really want to make students aware of mental health and make them aware of noticing other students, notice if someone is sitting by themselves, notice if somebody is alone, notice if someone is really struggling and invite them maybe if someone is sitting at another table. Just really make kids aware of other kids," explained Amy Hulka, a math teacher and one of the Be Nice coordinators.

Jojo Perkins is a 6th grade member of the Be Nice leadership team. "I know it can be kind of scary because it's your first year in middle school so sometimes you take that scaredness out and you try to make yourself seem tougher so you start being meaner to people and it really doesn't help anything, it just makes you feel worse," she explained. "Instead you should be kind to others and if you are scared, think of how scared other people might be.

"When you are nice, not only do you make others feel better but you make yourself feel better."

The school has a banner with hundreds of signatures on display, showing who has taken the Be Nice pledge at Creekside.

Each year, schools who participate in the School Spirit Challenge get to pop their names in a drawing for a $1,000 prize. Last year, it was Creekside who won, and what they did with it was pretty amazing!

"We won the Toys for Tots $1,000 and we decided to donate it to the Community Action House and the Kids Food Basket," explained 8th grader Megan Gemmill. "Helping out the community really gives you a good feeling."

"We wanted to do something with food and with living. We didn't want to do just food or just housing, we wanted to mix it up," said Morgan Smith, also in 8th grade.

The student council is super excited to be participating once again. They are doing a grade level challenge to see which grade can collect the most toys.

"It just makes me feel really warm inside because I know that I'm helping someone and I know that they wll get something special on Christmas," said Morgan. "They will actually have something they will remember forever."

The School Spirit Challenge is coming up on Friday, Dec. 15. WZZM will be highlighting several more participating schools as we lead up to that event.

For more information about the School Spirit Challenge, or to participate, please contact Catherine Behrendt at 616-559-1481 or by email at catherinebehrendt@wzzm13.com.

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