Tag Archives: Elections

School News Network: A Year in America and Then Some

Celebrating their year abroad in America are, from left, Natale Aurtenetxe, Elisabeta Karlin, Hang Thi Minh Ha, Triet Vu, Yuka Nagai and Ayaka Kawasaki.

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


In his year of study at Wyoming High School, Triet Vu learned a lot of things about America and its education system that were much different from his home in Vietnam: the easier curriculum, the pervasive technology, the intensely controversial election. But what he valued most? His fellow students.


“I really like the people,” said Triet, a senior. “It’s so nice. I can just say hi to a random person, have small talk and we’ll be friends. I can feel like I’m getting more sociable and mature.”


Triet is one of 57 students who attended Kent County schools this year through the Educatius Group, a foreign-student exchange program operating in more than 230 U.S. high schools. It also works with some 120 universities to help students like Triet access higher education here; he has been accepted by Grand Valley State University to study nursing next year.


Ayaka Kawasaki, left from Japan, and Hang The Minh Ha and Triet Vu, of Vietnam, were impressed by how engage Americans were in the election.

The foreign-exchange experience has enriched the lives of students and their host families for generations, thanks to a variety of agencies. Boston-based Educatius has provided that experience for students from more than 50 countries in the past 10 years, an increasing number of them in West Michigan. With an office in Grand Rapids, it has grown from 39 students attending area schools in 2014 to 92 this year.


School News Network invited a half-dozen Educatius students to come together in mid-April and compare notes on their school year, which just happened to coincide with one of the most divisive presidential elections in American history. Here they weigh in on that and other, less controversial topics.

What Was Weird?

“I’m really surprised by how much you guys eat fast food,” said Triet, who as he said has become very sociable. “We had a lot of pizza, like, a LOT of pizza.”


For Elisabeta Karlin of Wiesbaden, Germany, who goes by Lisa, it was what she called “spray cheese,” better known here as Cheez Whiz. “I haven’t tried it, but I thought it was weird,” said Lisa, who attends the Rockford Freshman Center.


Ayaka Kawasaki, a junior at Wyoming High School, thought it was weird that students eat in the classroom, something never done at her school in Tokyo.


“We don’t use so many cars as you,” said Natale Aurtenetxe, a sophomore at Rockford High School. “We use more public transport” back home in Bilbao, Spain.


For Yuka Nagai, a sophomore at Catholic Central, it was weird not having the steering wheel on the right side, as in Japan. But it was much easier to get to school than in Tokyo, where it took her 30 minutes by bike, 30 minutes by train and 30 minutes walking – yes, that’s 90 minutes total.


Triet Vu

What Was Hard?


Lisa and Natale were both thrown by how often classes change. Back home they spent most of the school day with the same students.


“I like that you switch and can meet new people,” said Lisa, whereas always being with the same group, “You get annoyed with some people.”


Just physically changing classes at 1,800-student Rockford High was a challenge, added Natale: “It’s like if your locker’s downstairs and you need to go upstairs, it’s really difficult. There’s a lot of people.”

Although he found his studies “pretty easy,” Triet also found the constant class changes at Wyoming High disconcerting. “Teachers ask us to pair up and I’m like, ‘Oh crap, I don’t know anyone!’”


Yuka was taken aback by how much American students discuss topics with their teachers, so unlike the sit-quietly-and-take-notes norm of Japanese students. “If I could speak English more, I’d prefer the American style,” she said.


Hang The Minh Ha

Hang Thi Minh Ha was unnerved by having to give class presentations at Wyoming, which was way out of her comfort zone compared to students’ passive routine in Vietnam. “I was so scared,” Hang said. “I tried my best. It was good for me.”


What Did You Most Appreciate?


“The teachers were really nice to you and really helpful,” Lisa piped up immediately.


For Yuka, it was the ready availability of technology, whether working from an iPad, emailing a teacher or using Google Translate. “In Japan, we have to carry a bunch of textbooks every single day,” she said. “I thought my back was going to be broken.”


For Hang, it was being able to know more people and ask teachers for help after school. That’s not easy in Vietnam, where she said she attended school six days a week until 5:30 p.m., and sometimes evenings if she needed more help.


Ayaka appreciated the diversity of students in Wyoming. “Everybody’s different,” she said. “I like that. Japan’s so boring. Everyone’s the same.”


And What about That Election?


To a person, the students were impressed with how intensely engaged the public was in the showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.


“It’s crazy how you guys have all different opinions,” Triet marveled. “American people kind of put me to shame. I know literally nothing about Vietnamese politics. We just can’t have opinions.” On the other hand, he saw here “so much protesting and so much hate. I don’t like that.”


Lisa was also fascinated by Americans’ “strongly different opinions of things. In Germany, you don’t have such a strong opinion about politics.” However, she also sometimes found the election “kind of scary,” like when she heard of people beating each other up.


Hang went to the polling place with her host father, Eddie Tauler, and was impressed. “I saw how Americans care about their government and their president. They have freedom to speak about what they think.” In Vietnam, she added, “You have to be careful what you say.”


“In Japan, I never saw government as interesting,” Ayaka said. Yuka agreed, adding, “I was so impressed that even younger people (in America) have interest in their government and politics.”


What Was Most Special?


All agreed it was the people – new friends at school and at home, with their host families.

Lisa traveled with her host parents, Shannon and Sara Moore, to see their daughter Michelle compete in Color Guard. She and Natale played on the Rockford tennis team, and Natale went camping with her host family, Matt and Karyll Russell, and helped daughters Karys and Jocelyn with their Spanish Immersion studies.


Hang and Ayaka, who both stayed with Eddie and Jamie Tauler, laugh about eating Eddie’s macaroni and cheese – “The American food I will never forget,” Hang said.


And that’s definitely not all.


“It’s really tough on them to leave, and leave the friends they made,” said Laurie Ledesma, who hosted Yuka and helps coordinate Educatius locally.


Triet agreed. “Basically, friends is what makes the year really special.”


Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.


WKTV to feature Democracy Now! live election coverage

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez from Democracy Now! Photo courtesy of Democracy Now! by Steve J. Sherman
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez from Democracy Now! Photo courtesy of Democracy Now! by Steve J. Sherman

For its election coverage, WKTV will host a live broadcast of the independent news program Democracy Now! Tuesday Nov. 8, on WKTV Government Channel 26.


The five-hour broadcast will start at 5 p.m. and will feature Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez who will be co-hosts for the special election night coverage.


The program will include real-time results from presidential, gubernatorial and congressional races as well as state and ballot initiatives from around the country.


The co-hosts will look at what the election results mean for war and peace, climate change, income inequality, racial and economic justice, LGBTQ rights and the global issues.


Democracy Now!’s election night special will feature unique interviews and perspectives. The program will include the voices of activists, analysts and grassroots leaders discussing how the movements on ground will go forward following this historic election.


For more information, visit democracynow.org.

Book Review: William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate by David Dempsey

millikenWhen I was a kid, I read a lot of biographies – explorers, sports heroes, presidents. Somehow, reading about those outstanding individuals of the past gave me pride and hope for the future. Dave Dempsey’s new biography of William G. Milliken evoked that same kind of feeling.



Milliken became Governor of Michigan in 1969, when then Governor George Romney left for Washington to take a post in President Nixon’s Cabinet. Milliken was subsequently elected to three consecutive four-year terms when he retired in 1982, he had served longer than any previous individual as the state’s chief executive. These were not easy years. Riots had scarred Detroit, the automobile industry was battered by foreign competition disrupting the state’s economy, and the battle to protect the environment was just beginning.



Through it all, Milliken acted with confidence, optimism and a spirit of conciliation. He stood, and still stands, as an example of the decency and civility that raises politics from the level of mud-slinging to the high plain of public service. Like all good writers, Dempsey uses many specific examples to paint a clear picture of Milliken’s general character. He describes the time when the Governor and his wife were taken on a hiking tour to film the television program “Michigan Outdoors” and 60-year-old Gene Little was lugging a huge TV camera on his shoulder. Dempsey lets one of the hikers, David Smethurst, tell the story:


“. . . we walked on and on. Pretty soon Gene is huffing and puffing. We stop more often for him. I walk ahead with Ned and Mrs. Milliken and look behind. Gene is still slogging along, but the Governor is now carrying his TV camera . . .I made up my mind about the Millikens that day. Good people make good leaders.”




The book is filled with these firsthand observations from friends of the Governor and his political adversaries, from newspaper editorials, journalists and reporters. Dempsey has done an excellent job of weaving this material into his text which provides a broader historical perspective. It’s like being there and then stepping back to reflect on the impact of major events form the time period. Often he lets Milliken speak for himself as in these words from his first speech as the acting Governor:



“[I hope my administration] is known for its compassion, its idealism, its candor and its toughness in pursuit of public ends.”



This high standard is the Milliken legacy something we citizens can hold up with hope and pride for our future political leaders.


We the People: Gaines Township Office and Board candidates – 2016 Primary

We The People 2016At the Aug. 2 primary, Gaines Township residents will be heading to the polls to elect all of their township officials as every single office – supervisor, treasurer, clerk and trustees – are up for election.


Three of the offices have candidates running unopposed. Rob De Ward is seeking the Gaines Township supervisor position. Incumbent Crystal Osterink is seeking the position of clerk and Incumbent Laurie J. Lemke is running for township treasurer.


Current Gaines Township Supervisor Don R. Hilton Sr. is one of six people seeking the four township trustee positions. Also running are current township trustees Eric Fouch, Dan Fryling, Tim Haagsma, and Angela Burnside and newcomer Kathy Vander Stel.


Gaines Township is broken into nine precincts. Percent 1 and 2 will vote at the Gaines Charter Township Offices, 8555 Kalamazoo Ave. SE. Precinct 3 is at Gaines Branch Library, 421 68th St. SE. Precinct 4 and 5 voters will head to Heritage Baptist Church, 1570 60th St. SE. Precinct 6 will vote at Hillside Community Church, 1440 68th St. SE. Precinct 7 is at Providence Christian Reformed Church, 7730 Eastern Ave. SE and Precincts 8 and 9 will head to Ada Bible Church, 2045 68th St. SE.


For each precinct’s area visit the Gaines Charter Township website and look for the precinct map under the Office of the Clerk in the category of Departments. All precincts are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.