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Local Children Envision a New Battle Creek

Expecting a robot to take out your trash or plant your garden anytime soon? Eight-year-old Nathan Hileman is. And, he just may be on to something.

Hileman’s voice, along with the voices of 44 Battle Creek children, ring loud and clear in a colorful collection of perspectives called “Our Battle Creek.” Their personal stories and insightful creations appeared as a supplement to the Battle Creek Enquirer on July 31, 2005 and the Battle Creek Shopper News on August 4, 2005. Their creations can also be found at www.wkkf.org/ourbattlecreek.

More than a cute tribute to school-age kids, the ideas behind “Our Battle Creek” will change lives and alter the course of history. At least that’s the hope of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“Our Battle Creek” is one of many investments the Kellogg Foundation is making to honor the people of Battle Creek in 2005, the Foundation’s 75th Anniversary year.

The project began in fall 2004 when Battle Creek’s core city schools were invited to define the future through a better understanding of what’s on the minds of today’s youth. Over 200 children submitted entries to “Our Battle Creek” with final pieces – including essays, photographs, artwork, and personal narratives – specially chosen by a panel of community youth and adults.

Children of all ages were challenged to express their vision for the Battle Creek of tomorrow, or pay tribute to a person, place or activity they enjoyed.

Hileman of Westlake Elementary pictured trash-eating and seed-planting robots making Battle Creek cleaner and greener while Battle Creek Central High School 10th-grader, Drew Walbeck exposed Battle Creek’s “darker side” in an eerie painting he believes shows “change will come hard, but soon the light will cover all of Battle Creek.”

“Children dream, and they dream big,” says James E. McHale, the Kellogg Foundation’s assistant vice president for programs in Battle Creek. “Calling those dreams ‘youthful idealism’ is patronizing and cynical. Too much cynicism makes for an ugly community. We need to be out there supporting those positive dreams.”

The experts couldn’t agree more.

In fact, Disney’s 2001 Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark, says that many kids with discipline problems also show leadership qualities. “We’re talking about kids who have the ability to lead other kids down the wrong path,” he says.

In March, Clark paid a two-day visit to Battle Creek as part of a 75th Anniversary edition of the Kellogg Foundation’s ongoing Expert in Residence Program.

 “The kids have been so intelligent. They’ve had manners and respect,” says Clark of his visit to Battle Creek. “I would just encourage everyone to get involved,” he says, “because it takes all of us to really lift all these kids up to show them their potential…”

With positive venues for expression, like the upcoming “Our Battle Creek” and guidance from people like Clark, youth become connected with their community and caretakers of it, says Loraine Cowe, Battle Creek Public Schools Fine Arts Program Director, who helped organize the newspaper supplement project.

“We preach respect and responsibility in the schools, but how often do we give students a chance to express themselves and be taken seriously?” Cowe asks.

“When we listen to their ideas, publish their works, and help them obtain positions on boards, that is showing respect for youth. This whole project is really much, much bigger than meets the eye,” says Cowe.

But, listening to the voices of youth can stir adults’ emotions and bring hope. The hundreds of entries to “Our Battle Creek” often named parents, teachers, and siblings as the most important – and most admired – people on Earth and Battle Creek as the number one city because it was home.

Maria Calderon, a Springfield Middle School eighth-grader, describes her mother as “my influence and my strength” in an essay that accompanies the colorful portrait she submitted.

“Battle Creek compares to a beautiful flower,” writes Ana Alcana, a Battle Creek Central High School 10th-grader whose artwork sprouts from the cover of the insert.

125,000 copies of “Our Battle Creek” are finding their way across the community, asking people to celebrate children and the future of Battle Creek, which they already have begun to lovingly create.

To learn about special Anniversary year events in Battle Creek, visit www.wkkf.org/75BCEvents.

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