For Grand River Prep A.P. Environmental Science teacher, Jordan Dischinger-Smedes, being named the 2021 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year was quite the honor - but the real reward is watching the lessons he shares with his students take shape into tangible, impactful work in the real world. On Wednesday, June 16, he got to see everything come full circle as he, along with three students from his A.P. Environmental Science class, visited with numerous lawmakers in Lansing to present a bold environmental conservation bill - entirely led by those passionate kids.
The legislation, dubbed “30x30,” proposes a bipartisan established task force, whose goal is to protect 30% of Michigan’s Lands and Waters by 2030. Currently, less than 8% of Michigan land is considered “protected,” and only 7% is considered “partially protected” - so this idea is no small task. Amazingly, Jordan’s students were not only inspired by his lessons, but by other trailblazing students.
The origins of the 30x30 task force legislation are 100% the brain child of students from Pontiac Township High School in Illinois. Students, led by dynamic environmental science teacher, Paul Ritter, worked with the IL Department of Natural Resources to reintroduce regionally extinct alligator snapping turtles to the state, testified in front of the UN in Nairobi, Kenya, and even established a pharmaceutical pill disposal program to help residents safely dispose of unused medications. By meeting with his students and learning about their efforts, I realized this was something my students were totally capable of as well.”
- Jordan Dischinger-Smedes
The IL students also weighed in on the real obstacles and challenges that stood in the way of success. For Jordan’s students, this insight was truly eye-opening.
I think in general we all learned that this is not going to be a quick process - at all. The other students who pioneered similar legislation in another state planned and advocated for their legislation for YEARS, with obstacles and hardships to overcome along their journey. We too have already faced obstacles early in the process, but we learned from the IL students that perseverance is key, and cooperation on both sides of the aisle is crucial to win in politics.
- Alex Miranda, GRP student & 30x30 project co-lead
Grand River Preparatory High School students & 30x30 project leads, (from left to right) Madison Smith, Alex Miranda and Kira VanderMolen
So with a full presentation in hand, and a mission on their minds, students Alex Miranda, Kira VanderMolen, and Madison Smith joined Jordan to meet with GRP’s lawmakers, State Rep. Steven Johnson, Senator Aric Nesbitt, as well as State Rep. Cynthia Johnson, Senator Winnie Brink, and State Rep. Abraham Aiyash, who sits on the MI House Committee on Natural Resources & Outdoor Recreation. Ayaish, who’s a proud advocate for the environment, was impressed with the poise and passion of the students.
GRP students and 2021 MI Charter TOY, Jordan Dischinger-Smedes, meet with State Rep. Abraham Aiyash (pictured middle), on their 30x30 conservation bill.
“Protecting our planet is paramount - and I’m glad the next generation of climate organizers understand this NOW. I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Smedes and the students from Grand River Preparatory High School for their commitment to protecting the incredible ecology we have in Michigan. The 30x30 student-led initiative will keep our state a Pure Michigan for decades to come.
- State Rep. Abraham Aiyash
Not all of the lawmakers who met with the GRP crew saw eye to eye on the legislation - but each provided them with invaluable insight and experience that will help them shape a plan to continue moving the bill forward.
Meeting with proponents AND opponents to our legislation was a rollercoaster of emotions - but nonetheless, it was very beneficial. Simply being able to scope out the mannerisms of lawmakers in these meetings has prompted us to evaluate how we present the information in future meetings. By having professional conversations with top MI officials, we gained courage and political experience to push forward - and we’re thankful for that!
- Alex Miranda
With this experience under their belts, and their glowing passions, we have no doubt that these students will continue to pursue moving their 30x30 project forward - and that Jordan will continue to inspire new coalitions of students to take academic lessons and transform them into meaningful change in the world.
I think these types of projects, where students do their own research, ask their own questions, encounter real set-backs, and find innovative ways around them are more dynamic learning opportunities than anything I can provide them within the walls of my classroom. As Paul Ritter likes to say "our jobs as teachers is to be the lead cheerleader. To encourage them and point them in the right direction, but then to step out of the way and let them learn from experience." I think these are the types of learning experiences that create resilient, empowered students who don't wait for internships or opportunities to come to them, but seek out their own chances to develop skills or design their own positions within organizations.