TRAVERSE CITY — Stan VerHeul encouraged a group of students at the Greenspire School to read a biography about one of history's great activists.
Students who want to make the world a better place can learn a lot from the writings of activists like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi -- individuals who who never gave up on what they believed, VerHeul said.
"Those people will influence your lives," he said.
VerHuel, a retired minister and self-proclaimed peace activist, recently delivered his message during a symposium of sorts at Greenspire School. He was joined by a handful of leaders from Traverse City's public sector and volunteer community as part of the charter school's "PeaceJam" year-long curriculum.
"The folks here come in and show students that activism in your community and social engagement can be a lifelong endeavor," said Sarah Johnson, head of Greenspire School.
PeaceJam is an internationally recognized program that teaches students about Nobel Peace Laureates and about joining local and global activist causes, Johnson said.
Greenspire School students are half-way through the curriculum. So far they've worked on a handful of community projects, like restoring an "outdoor" classroom with the Grand Traverse Conservation District and creating an anti-bullying video and passing it out to other schools.
Students will spend the second half of the PeaceJam curriculum creating their own projects about community engagement.
Seventh grade student Kira Ganter doesn't know what her project will be about, but she's most interested in water waste and pollution, and preventing animal abuse.
"I really want to be a vet when I grow up and help animals," she said.
Joseph Lyons, another seventh grader, is interested in a more obscure cause: the plight of Tilikum, a whale at Sea World that is the subject of a popular new documentary film.
Tilikum was involved in the deaths of three people while in captivity. Lyons said there's a petition circulating to rehabilitate the whale and release him back in the wild.
Lyons wants to help gather signatures for the petition.
"I think if we put out posters about the petition we can get the 1 million people that we need," he said.
Friday's event was also a chance for Greenspire officials to show off a newly constructed $1.1 million building that expands the school's classroom space and includes a fully-equipped science lab.
About 70 students currently attend Greenspire. The addition pushes the charter school's capacity up to about 120 students.