Local students attend national leadership conference in D.C. 

Three students from Char-Em Intermediate School District schools were selected to attend the Jobs for America’s Graduates National Leadership Academy in December 2019. The students were selected by their teachers and Mike Vandermus, Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates (JMG) Specialist with Michigan Works!, a program under Networks Northwest. The Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates position is a partnership with Char-Em ISD and its Career and Technical Education Department, with both helping to connect local students with work opportunities throughout the region.

The students who attended are Michael Joseph Kline, senior at Alanson Public Schools; 

Levi Pepin, a senior at East Jordan High School; and Vela Wolniewicz, a senior at Crooked Tree High School, a Char-Em ISD-operated high school in Harbor Springs.

The 23rd annual conference took place in Washington, D.C., where the students participated in seminars with their peers from around the U.S. and visited important national landmarks. They were selected based on their leadership characteristics and willingness to go above and beyond, Vandermus said.

“The students were selected in accordance with who would best represent the school and our programs,” Vandermus said. “The ability to connect and talk with new people was also a part of the process.”

The trip connected the Northern Michigan youth with students from all over the country who are also participating in Jobs for America’s Graduates opportunities. “They realized that we are all trying to live a successful, fulfilling and happy life and be a positive, contributing member of our society,” Vandermus noted.

JMG Specialist Mike Vandermus, far right, is pictured with ta group of regional students as they prepare to depart for D.C. in early December. Char-Em ISD students pictured here are Vela Wolniewicz, front row center (black coat); Levi Pepin, next to Vandermus; Michael Kline, next to Levi in the back row.

Michael, the Alanson student, said he had traveled to D.C. before with family, but knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend the leadership academy. “When I first got to the hotel and saw all the people, my first thought was that I was going to make a lot of friends – and I did. When I got with my group, I didn’t know anyone, but as we traveled I learned that I had more in common with them than I thought,” Michael said. “When I was listening to their speakers, one thing really stuck out to me. The speaker said that there are over thousands of jobs out there you just have to go out there and look. This made me think of all the positive impacts this could have on anyone, not just me.”

Levi had not traveled to D.C. before, and doesn’t travel out of Michigan too frequently. “It was cool to meet a lot of new people from different areas around the country,” Levi said. “There were students from huge schools. I never realized how big some high schools are. There were kids there with like 800 students in just their grade.”

For Levi the best part of the experience was to visit the landmarks during a twilight D.C. tour. “We also, literally, ran over to see the Washington Monument during the tour and got to go right up to the base of it.”

Aside from the tours, there were important seminar takeaways as well. “During the seminar, they talked a lot about body language during human interaction, and how it can be the difference between getting or not getting a job,” Levi noted. 

Vela, from Crooked Tree, also had not traveled to D.C. prior to the trip. She enjoyed being with other students, meeting new people and hearing different views and experiences. Sometimes, it was stressful being with people from larger cities, she noted. 

“In my opinion, the best part was the touring. It was fun going with a big group of people and looking at the city, especially at night,” Vela said. “I think just going to other places and traveling is such an important part of life. I was able to explore a new place while meeting people from all over. I was able to learn from others while learning more about myself. Hearing others’ stories and experiences made me very grateful for my life; not that I wasn’t before, but a reminder is always nice.”

Vandermus said from his perspective, the biggest takeaway was seeing and hearing the excitement and positivity with the students. “They all loved the trip and got to meet lots of people. They met new people that they will keep in touch with and had experiences that will last a lifetime,” Vandermus said. “These students didn’t disappoint and did an amazing job representing our ISD and our programs. They took full advantage of the trip and made great memories that they will be able to carry with them. We couldn’t have asked for better representation.”

Alanson High School student Michael Kline has some fun outside the U.S. Capitol during the leadership trip in early December.

When asked if they had any final thoughts on the trip, Michael from Alanson stated: “The best part of the entire experience would be the amount of friends that I had made and all the cards we played back in the hotel room.”

And Levi added: “Also, the food was great!”

Photo captions:

Photo at top of page: Char-Em ISD district students are pictured with students from around the country outside of the U.S. Capitol in D.C. They are Michael Kline, far left; Levi Pepin, back row, second from right; and Vela Wolniewicz, front row, far right.



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