The Rapidian

Innovation Central students chosen to attend APEC summit in Beijing

Three high school students from Grand Rapids Public Schools have been selected to to attend the APEC Finance Ministers Conference in Beijing this October.
Theresa Vandyke, Justice Shoals and Hannah Jones

Theresa Vandyke, Justice Shoals and Hannah Jones /Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

In a couple short weeks three students from Innovation Central High School will have the life shaping opportunity to travel to China to represent their school, city and country at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Finance Ministers conference in Beijing. 

Gideon Sanders, Director for Innovative Strategies at Innovation Central, says their school was invited by the Osgood Center for International Studies out of Washington DC where Sanders used to teach. 

"I was alerted to the opportunity mid August," says Sanders. "It's been a very quick turnaround."

Justice Shoals, Hannah Jones and Theresa Vandyke, sophomore, junior and senior respectively, all belong to the Academy of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship. It is one of four schools on the Innovation Central campus in Heritage Hill. The students were identified through the business office and chosen for their high academic achievements and the ability to prepare for the trip in a very limited timeframe. 

Area businesses have offered to help fund certain aspects of the trip, which will include Sanders and chaperone Natasa Karic from the school.

"We've been very lucky in that we've have a number of sponsors who were willing to jump in and help the students," says Sanders. "To have the students have a stake in it, we asked them to raise funds for their tickets." 

Amway, a sponsor for the Academy of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship agreed to pay the conference fees for all five participants. Meijer Corporation provided donations to get what Sanders calls "delegation kits" that include shirts, backpacks and luggage with logos. Individuals from the Heritage Hill neighborhood have also donated funds for the trip. 

Vandyke says that she sold screen printed t-shirts at school in an effort to raise money. Shoals has helped out family members by doing chores and watching kids. Jones baked cupcakes, brownies and cookies and sold them at her mother's place of work. Her father's barber friend is donating tips from his practice. 

The students will spend four days in Beijing where they will meeting with students from Trianjin International School, sitting in on lectures, attending APEC sessions and doing a good amount of tourist traveling like hiking a five mile stretch of the Great Wall. 

"I feel really excited. I've always wanted to travel. And I'm able to do that in high school so that's really cool," say Shoals. "I really want to know how it's different in other places compared to how my life is." 

"I've been to places before but nothing like China. It's China, who wouldn't want to go to China? I'm looking forward to everything that we're going to do," says Jones enthusiastically. 

Vandyke, who has never flown before and admits her apprehension about it, says that she "would like to know that there's a world outside of Michigan and Grand Rapids." She's especially excited to see Thai Chi morning exercises in the park next to her hotel.

Sanders, who has lead two previous trips to Beijing while teaching in the DC area, says that the cultural experience is often not the big attractions but rather the daily lives of a city's populous. 

On top of their travel itinerary, each student has been blogging leading up to the event. While in Beijing they will have to participate in a two hour study hall per day where they will stay connected via internet to their classes back at home.

"My goal for them is to be treated like a business trip. Their business is academics. But it's a business trip," says Sanders.

"I would like to bring an open mind, so they will know that I would be willing to try everything," says Vandyke. "I understand that they have it different than we do, and they do things different, and I can adapt to that."

Asked about what fears he has, Shoals says bluntly that he's afraid of disappointing himself.

"I have high expectations of myself and I would like to live up to those," says Shoals. 

 Sanders, who brings his experience from two previous trips is taking a new perspective on the opportunity. 

"This time I'm going to really try and focus on absorbing their reactions. The students' reactions, the other chaperone's reactions to what they're seeing, what they're experiencing because it's not that new situation for me. And I think it will be fantastic to translate that to the parents, and translate that back to other teachers and administrators. To show what these students are capable of and show why this is a potentially life changing event for them. Then start to work on finding ways that we can open up these experiences to more students in Grand Rapids," says Sanders.

Jones, like her fellow classmates, is still adjusting to this rapidly-arranged opportunity.

"I'm still in shock that I'm going to China," she says softly. 

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