Hamilton High School believes in providing real-world opportunities to our students to help identify their passions early on, and it doesn’t get any more “hands-on” or “real-world” than Mark Behnke’s Writing for Exploration Cold Case Research class at HHS.

Students who signed up for the class entered the school year with expectations to maybe watch Law & Order and solve some fictional cases. They quickly realized it was much more than that.

“I went into it thinking we would be researching cold cases and how investigating works, and things like that,” HHS sophomore Karly Wendt explained. “I never expected it to be this hands on.”

The cases taken on by our Hamilton High School students are very real, very complicated, and of course, very difficult to solve, even for professionals with decades of experience. Therefore, the students are taking it case-by-case and accruing all of the information they can to try to help rule out possibilities and assist law enforcement any way they can with realistic expectations.

“We’re not necessarily trying to solve the case, even though that would be great,” said Hamilton High School sophomore Evelyn Boeve. “Realistically, we’re just trying to get more information for the police and what we do here in this classroom can help future classes work with local law enforcement and colleges for years to come.”

And the partnerships between the class and local law enforcement have already begun to grow, thanks to the hard work and professionalism of these students. Cold Case Research students now have several connections to the Michigan State Police, the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department, and the highly achieving Cold Case Research program at Western Michigan University.

“I feel like I’ve built a bit of a network here to help my students find answers when I don’t know them, but it’s also an avenue for them to reach out and communicate with professionals in a way that high school students should,” said teacher Mark Behnke.

One of those professionals now supporting the class is Western Michigan University criminal justice professor and Director of the Cold Case Program, Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten who was astonished by all of the work going into the program at HHS.

“Mark Behnke is putting Hamilton High School on the map for their [Cold Case] program,” Dr. Kuersten wrote in a letter to the district. “I don’t know a single other high school that has done so much work. Mark has opened his students’ eyes to a completely new career possibility and has done it with grace and enthusiasm.”

Students receive an English elective for taking the class but more importantly, they feel accomplished as they continue to make a difference for local agencies. 

“It’s really cool to have the police want to help you out and come in and talk to you,” senior Abby VandenBerg added. “It’s a great opportunity that I never thought we would have in high school.”