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2020 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

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EDUCATION BLUE APPLE

EDUCATION BLUE APPLE BRINGS PROJECT-BASED LEARNING TO LIFE The fifth-grade students at San Juan Diego Academy faced a choice: should they protect Earth’s environment or explore Mars as a potential home? The fifth-grade students at San Juan Diego Academy faced a choice: should they protect Earth’s environment or explore Mars as a potential home? The students were among the first to pilot a new program called Blue Apple, created by Van Andel Institute for Education to increase students’ engagement and help teachers who want to make a significant difference in their students’ lives. Blue Apple provides teachers with project plans and supplies, connections to real-world experts, cross-curricular content, and the opportunity to collaborate with other classrooms. The Institute also makes members of its staff available as project coaches. “Working with VAI is just something special for us, and we are really blessed,” said Christine Wright, a fifth-grade teacher at San Juan Diego Academy. “If the Institute did not work with us and give us these opportunities, there would be experiences our students would miss out on.” Wright’s students undertook Blue Apple’s “Dirty Truth” project, and learned the importance of protecting Earth’s environment and researched the potential of life on Mars. They studied soils and fertilizers to grow crops, and filmed commercials to raise money for their causes. The class divided into two teams — the Red Team for Mars, the Blue Team for Earth — researched each option, and then taped commercials urging people to donate for their causes. For the students — most of them the children of recent immigrants from Mexico, Central America and South America — the exercise was an engaging, cross-curricular exercise combining English language arts, math, science, social studies, and social-emotional learning. The Red Team raised 5 and donated it to Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. The Blue team raised 8 and donated it to the Environmental Defense Fund. Blue Apple, which launched in 2019, has been adopted by more than 200 schools throughout the Midwest and beyond. Teachers who have used Blue Apple projects have been very happy with how their students became engaged and enthusiastic about learning. “It’s always been a part of our mission to impact education on a national scale. We think Blue Apple is a productive way to do it. The project really is built around the idea that engagement leads to achievement,” said Terra Tarango, VAI’s chief education officer. “We’re really pleased that 100 percent of the teachers said it increased critical and creative thinking among their students.” For more information about Blue Apple, visit blueappleteacher.org. SAN JUAN DIEGO ACADEMY STUDENTS ENGAGING WITH BLUE APPLE 12 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

VAI SUMMER CAMPS HOW VAI SUMMER CAMPS NURTURE A FAMILY’S LOVE OF LEARNING Ceci Kovarik, a lively 9-year-old, recently took a trip to Mars. Ceci attended “Mission to Mars,” one of VAI’s summer camps, where she was able to explore the science, engineering and technology needed to complete a trip to another planet. Along with students from West Michigan, Ceci made new friends, developed an understanding of scientific concepts and embraced her boundless curiosity. Ceci’s mother, Joanna, is a Polish immigrant who met her husband, originally from the Czech Republic, on a flight from Prague to Chicago. After they got married, the couple settled on the north side of Grand Rapids, where they are raising six children together. Kovarik believes that her children’s future and their success lies in the power of knowledge. “I understood that one of the best ways you can advance yourself in this country is through education, so I always encourage our kids to work hard and do the best they can,” Joanna said. Joanna learned about VAI’s educational programs from a teacher at their middle school, and the recommendation helped shape the trajectory of her children’s lives. “The Institute really opened up the kids’ horizons and enabled them to work with students from other schools who were also passionate about science and focused on learning,” Joanna said. “The kids involved in these programs are so empowered to learn, and the teachers really help them view what they are doing as important and valuable.” JOANNA, LUCIE & CECI KOVARIK Lucie Kovarik, a sophomore in high school with a passion for science, also participated in VAI’s summer camps. She enjoyed the opportunity to meet like-minded students and explore her interests so much that she has attended the camp for the past three years. “I am always looking for opportunities to learn, and I really love the diversity of science,” Lucie said. “When you’re a scientist, there’s just so much out there to explore.” Joanna is grateful her children were able to participate in VAI’s education programs and hopes the Institute will continue to expand on education initiatives that have given her children such wonderful opportunities to experience the joy of learning, explore new interests and discover the world. “I credit Van Andel Institute for a lot of my kids’ success in school,” Joanna said. “It’s worth the commitment, and when you don’t have access to very many educational resources, a program like this really means a lot.” For information on Van Andel Institute’s student programs, visit vaei.org/student-programs. VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 13