Ionia County Youth Advisory Council students complete a very impressive number of tasks throughout the year. During their monthly meeting students from Ionia, Belding, Portland, Lakewood, Pewamo-Westphalia, Lowell, and Saranac gather and work to become better leaders and more productive members of society.

Every meeting begins with a team-building activity. These Icebreaker activities allow students to use leadership and teamwork skills to solve challenges or tasks. Students also go through leadership and goal-setting trainings throughout the year.

YAC students then have time to plan, develop, and implement their service projects. The YAC currently has 3 main projects that they focus their efforts on. Two of their most recent project are focused on bridging the Achievement Gap. The YAC’s largest, and most successful, project is their teen driver safety initiative called Strive 2 Arrive Alive, formerly known as Drive To Survive.

The Drive To Survive initiative began in 2008. Students from the Ionia County YAC were first exposed to Project Ignition at the National Service-Learning Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. YAC students recognized teen driver safety as an issue that needed to be addressed in their hometowns. Ionia County students became the first teen driver safety initiative in Michigan to receive a grant from the National Youth Leadership Council and State Farm for their project. YAC students began their project by creating a Public Service Announcement. YAC members presented this P.S.A. to classrooms in each of the five Ionia County high schools. Also, students were responsible for organizing and hosting a forum for high school students from Ionia, Belding, Portland, Lakewood, and Saranac high schools.

The students’ efforts earned them recognition as one of the top 25 Project Ignition schools and a trip to present in San Jose, California at the 2009 National Service-Learning Conference. The Ionia County YAC Drive To Survive initiative was awarded as a Tier 2 school. Being a Tier 2 school gave YAC the responsibility and privilege of being a regional leader for teen driver safety. YAC members who attended the conference gathered many new ideas, created lasting friendships and partnerships, and gained motivation to expand their project outreach and efficiency.

Ionia County YAC students took their project to the next level in 2010. Upon returning from the National Service-Learning Conference in 2009 students elected to host a State-Wide Teen Driver Safety Conference. Students worked hard to organize the conference. It all paid off on January 7, 2010 when the Ionia County YAC hosted their first State-Wide Teen Driver Safety Conference that included 250 youth from across the state of Michigan and students from Illinois. The conference also drew attention from four local T.V. stations. The Conference had such a large impact that YAC students are determined to turn this into an annual event.

Today, the Ionia County Youth Advisory Council is almost an entirely youth lead program. Students have been the driving force behind our project. They have also turned Drive To Survive into a year round project. Students have taken full responsibility for sustaining and expanding this project. They plan and implement their own projects, attend community events, do presentations for their peers, adults/parents, teachers, school administration and community partners. During the time of their project implementation students have created partnerships with the following individuals, organizations, and businesses:

State Police, State Sheriffs Association, Dean Transportation, Lansing Area Traffic Safety Council, State Farm, National Youth Leadership Council, Radisson Hotel, State Representatives, Former Governor Jennifer Granholm, Applebee’s Resturant, and schools including Ionia High School, Belding High School, Portland High School, Lakewood High School, Saranac High School, Carson-City High School, Lowell High School, Greenville High School, Harry D. Jacobs High School from Algonquin, Illinois, and Eureka High School from Eureka, California.

Students have also developed and distributed a variety of marketing materials including t-shirts, lanyards, key-chains, air fresheners, buttons, bumper stickers, chap-stick tubes, and flyers. The largest and most visible marketing project completed by YAC students was a billboard that was student designed and was posted on a main road in Ionia.

Youth Advisory Students have set a number of benchmarks in Michigan since beginning their teen driver safety initiative in 2008. Some of YAC’s benchmarks and accomplishments include the following:

  • First school in Michigan to receive a Project Ignition grant
  • First school in Michigan to be named amongst the top 25 Project Ignition schools in the United States and Canada.
  • Considered a regional leader by the National Youth Leadership Council and State Farm in advocating for teen driver safety
  • Hosted the first Teen Driver Safety Conference in Michigan
  • Gained recognition by former Governor Jennifer Granholm
  • Presented on teen driver safety in four different states including
    • San Jose, California – National Service-Learning Conference 2009
    • Crystal Lake, Illinois – Great Lakes Conference 2010
    • Atlanta, Georgia – National Service-Learning Conference 2010
    • Lansing, Michigan – State Wide Teen Driver Safety Conference 2011
    • Grand Rapids, Michigan – State Wide Teen Driver Safety Conference 2012

The Ionia County YAC is now considered a Tier 3 school which gives them the responsibility of helping other schools become involved with Project Ignition. Students are also working with Ionia County high school teachers and staff to implement more of their teen driver safety project into their classroom curriculum.

Ionia County YAC students started with a vision in 2008. In two short years they have created a project that has been recognized on a national level and that has taught thousands of students, parents/adults, teachers, administration, and community members the importance of teen driver safety. The motivation and determination of YAC students will help this project impact more current and young drivers, ultimately helping YAC students of reaching their main goal of creating safer roadways for all drivers.

The Achievement Gap Projects YAC students are working on are called STEP UP and  I CAN.

STEP UP (Stepping Towards Educational Progress; Underachievement Perishes) is an 8th grade mentoring project done by the YAC. Ten current 8th grade students from each Ionia County Middle School are selected by their counselors to participate in this project. The 50 selected students meet every other month at the ISD. YAC students introduce and interact with Step Up members during a variety of team building activities. Step Up students also participate in Leadership Trainings, goal setting activities, and service-learning projects.

During the final meeting of the year YAC and Step Up students worked together to benefit the community. Students made blankets for the RAVE women, hygiene packs for local homeless people, dog treats for the animal shelter, and recorded books on tape for younger students.

Step Up students also had the opportunity to ask a YAC member from their school district any questions they had about high school. YAC members answered any questions that they had and both students created a new friendship.

Step Up website:

I CAN (Individuals Capturing Academic Nourishment) 

I CAN began with a local elementary school teacher reaching out for help. A teacher was looking for help in improving her students reading skills. With a class of 21 third grade students, more than half were reading below grade level, some of who were reading at a kindergarten or first grade level.

YAC started by going to the classroom and recording a video of the students asking for high school students to come in and help them read. The video was then shown to Ionia High School students. Volunteers were recruited to come read to the I CAN students three times per week for a half hour per visit.

The 3rd grade students gave up their recess time to stay and read with their “reading-buddies”! The teacher said that the test scores in all subjects improved throughout the year. The exclamation point was put on this project when a 3rd grade student said to one of her reading-buddies, “Because of you, I can read.”