If you want to get the attention of high school students, incorporating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a lesson is a surefire method.
Grand River Preparatory High School Science Teacher Jeffrey Saneford has used the spicy snack to make classes like chemistry less intimidating to students. Instead of using foreign chemicals out of the stock room, he has raided the vending machine to teach students about calorimetry, the study of heat energy.
“We burn them and allow that energy to transfer into a sample of water and use that to calculate how much energy is released from the Cheeto and compare to the food label to see if it lines up,” he said. “Students get really excited about using things that they’re familiar with like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos but also doing exciting things with it, lighting it on fire on the lab stations.”
Saneford’s methods aren’t just a spectacle. Over a period of several years, he said Grand River Prep students have improved pass rates in the mid-90s. Saneford, who also teaches chemistry, was honored as an Excellence in Teaching winner as part of National Heritage Academies’ (NHA) Excellence Awards for the 2021-22 school year.
He has helped students go from being intimidated by a class like chemistry to not just succeeding in it but thriving. Grand River Prep’s AP Physics class is challenging but isn’t a requirement, and for that reason, Saneford admires the students who sign up for the course and challenge themselves.
Saneford is the only teacher at the school who has taught the class and enjoys the distinction of guiding students through a rigorous course that requires a lot of homework.
“The test is one of the hardest ones that students have the option to take,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in the students who choose to take that course because it’s an elective. They don’t have to take AP Physics but the ones who do choose to do it, it’s a really big ask of them.”
Saneford also is a content leader and instructional coach at Grand River Prep, which outperforms the local district in all subjects. As a content lead he writes the curriculum, tweaks the program from year to year, and also has helped introduce new physical science courses for the 2023-24 school year.
Now in his seventh year at Grand River Prep, Saneford has enjoyed the continuity of the school staff. Working together for years has helped create cross-curricular opportunities between science and math teachers to make sure students are using the same terminology and methods.
“The culture for the teachers in the building is one of excellence,” he said. “The staff are wonderful people to spend time with, socialize with and to teach with. We’re always pushing each other to do bigger and better things to grow and continue to set that standard.”
Principal Mike Irwin appreciates Saneford’s knack for meeting the needs of students and teachers at Grand River Prep.
“Jeffrey’s ability to create meaningful and impactful educational experiences for his students in his classroom as a huge addition to Grand River Prep,” Irwin said. “Having said that, his efforts to develop the other teachers within our building as well as within the rest of the organization also make him a rockstar as well.”
Keep up the excellent work, Mr. Saneford!
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Grand River Preparatory High School is a tuition-free, public charter school in Kentwood, Michigan, serving students in ninth through twelfth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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