Our Toys for Tots School Spirit Challenge is just a week away. It's one of the craziest, most fun newscasts of the year.

This year, our morning reporters are highlighting some of the fantastic schools that are participating. WZZM took the challenge to Kenowa Hills Middle School on Friday, Dec. 8.

At Kenowa Hills Middle School the student council organizes their Toys for Tots School Spirit Challenge, this is their first year participating. Sixth grade teacher and student council advisor Joanna Haines plays a key role in their participation. We spoke to her about why Kenowa Hills loves to take part. We also spoke with 7th grader Kelly Walski who said it makes her proud to be able to help make someone else's Christmas special.

Kenowa Hills has a fantastic emphasis on STEM education. It's called the Knights STEM Academy and it happens not on campus, but off site, under the same roof as start-up Move Systems.

"This is not just a program, this is a completely different way of looking at education," said Kenowa Hills Middle School Principal Abby Wiseman.

Just one step inside the Knights STEM Academy and it's obvious you're not in a typical classroom.
"With the STEM program at Kenowa Hills being inside this facility, students are seeing a whole world that they would not otherwise see just in their normal school setting," said Laura Elsner with DeWys Manufacturing.

It's a real-life school to business partnership for Kenowa Hills 7-10th grade students. It's housed under the same roof at MOVE Systems which makes environmentally friendly food carts with the help of DeWys manufacturing.

"What I saw in the management team at Kenowa Hills was incredibly forward looking ideas for something that hadn't been done before, but that would better reflect the needs of today's economy," said Move Systems CEO, James Meeks.

"I'll never forget sitting with Superintendent Gerry Hopkins and saying why don't you put this in our factory? and he looked at me and said, "Can we do that?" and I said I don't know, can we do that? but it was the right question. Not "that hasn't been done before," but "can we do that."

They can and they did. Now the students are benefiting. "This is an opportunity for us to continue our vision of meeting learners where they are at, of being innovative and providing opportunities for kids to engage and take ownership. To build our student agency so that they are proud of what they are doing and engaged in their learning," said Principal Wiseman.

So how do students and teachers feel about it?

"We get to do way more activities than we would in a normal classroom," said 9th grader Emma Baeseman.

"We're able to do our math class and apply that math class to what we are doing in here," said 10th grader Hannah Newcomb.

"It's not just equations and stuff, you are actually applying it," said 9th grader Noah Tudor.

Math teacher Lance Jones and Science teacher Jeremy Kusick work together to teach this 2 hour block. "Normally if you are a science teacher you teach science, if a you are a math teacher you teach math. Having the two teachers together, we get to really integrate those two things together in ways that we haven't previously," said Knights STEM Academy instructor Jeremy Kusick.

"With this space we can really dig in and apply the knowledge that we are teaching kids," said instructor Lance Jones."We spend part of our time learning content, and then part of our time working on projects.

"This is teaching you how to work in groups which is very important," said Andrew, another 10th grader.

"One of the things I also like is that we are preparing our students for post-high school. They are getting a lot of experience working on soft skills, team work, communication, getting to adapt and change, they are constantly having to change based on what is working and what is not," said Mr. Jones.

For more information about Move Systems, click here. For more information about DeWys Manufacturing, click here.

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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