BATTLE CREEK — A more holistic approach to ensuring positive outcomes for students, teachers and the community is the driving force behind a new partnership involving Battle Creek Public Schools and Grand Valley State University.
That’s according to GVSU President Thomas Haas, who notes having a highly skilled talent pool in Battle Creek will play a crucial role in the region’s ability to attract and retain new businesses. Haas said Battle Creek is poised to become part of a renaissance similar to what has happened in other Michigan cities including Detroit, Grand Rapids and Muskegon through the creation of an ecosystem that will deliver positive outcomes.
“In Battle Creek, this will be driven by educational opportunities,” he said.
The partnership is being funded through a five-year $15.5 million grant from the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The collaboration will enable the university to partner with BCPS to provide middle school and high school students a pathway to high-demand jobs in the health care and education sectors. As well, it will offer teachers enhanced professional development and mentorship opportunities and continue to build a pipeline of talented educators here in Battle Creek, officials said.
Additionally, GVSU will open an outreach center in downtown Battle Creek this summer to coordinate student services, also enabling the entire community to access the university’s resources.
Haas said the resource center will provide students and families with information about what is available to them through the partnership between the school system and GVSU.
“This will help students mitigate life circumstances that make it difficult to get to school, including issues such as poverty and homelessness,” said BCPS Superintendent Kimberly Carter. “This will give us the tools to address how we as a community help to mitigate these challenges so students can be successful.”
To complement these efforts, Carter said a “parent university” will be launched because “parents are critical to the success of everything we do.”
GVSU was selected to partner with BCPS because of longstanding relationships it has with leadership at the Kellogg Foundation. According to Haas, Kellogg Foundation President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron knew what GVSU had in terms of relevant programming and the positive outcomes it achieved with other school systems, especially the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
As an example, Haas cites the Public Museum High School in Grand Rapids, which is the product of an ongoing collaboration that includes GRPS, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and GVSU.
“This school was designed to create place-based learning to ensure that students learn across all of the disciplines,” Haas said. “It involved creating appropriate contemporary programming.”
A similar approach will be introduced within BCPS.
“This is about adding on a layer of support for teachers and students and creating new opportunities and experiences. This is about complementing some of the work already being done in regard to the five-year transformation,” Carter said.
For the Kellogg Foundation, the program helps further its efforts to enhance opportunities in its hometown.
“This new partnership reflects the commitment to collaboration that is guiding our shared efforts for children and families in Battle Creek,” Montgomery Tabron said in a statement. “It is creating a new pathway in our community — one that ultimately can increase access to jobs and talent in our region.”
Establishing a pipeline
GVSU’s College of Education will offer professional development opportunities to public school teachers in Battle Creek through new mentoring, leadership development and various programs to support curriculum design and instructional practices.
“This new teacher support is designed to reduce or eliminate turnover in the first one to three years,” Carter said.
Additionally, classroom assistants will receive support to become certified public school teachers, and the partnership will establish pipeline programs to bring more educators to Battle Creek.
BCPS middle school and high school students will be able to participate in STEM and teacher pipeline camps that will take place on GVSU’s campus with transportation costs covered through the partnership funding.
The university’s development of a teacher pipeline is in response to a teacher shortage in Michigan.
Carter said BCPS students also get access to early college courses related to a degree in education, which is designed to incentivize them to come back and teach in Battle Creek. By investing in the community’s youth, the hope is that they’ll eventually return to invest in the community, Carter said.
“Many of these students come from economically disadvantaged situations,” Haas said. “We want to ensure that students in Battle Creek have a chance to see and experience a college environment.”
The STEM-focused summer camps will give students hands-on experience in the health care, engineering and science fields. High school students can enroll in university classes in education and health sciences to get a headstart on their pathway to college and a career. Additionally, special camps will encourage young girls to explore math and sciences to promote greater gender equity in the fields.
Qualifying seniors also will be able to participate in the dual-enrollment program, which will enable them to earn college credits through GVSU.
“We’re excited about the opportunities to eliminate obstacles for students who want to access early entry opportunities,” Carter said. “There will be early college access for those students who want it.”
However, the partnership with GVSU is part of a larger collaboration established by BCPS.
“We are also partnering with other organizations for those students who may want to go into engineering and technology,” Carter said. “We have partnered with over 80 different area businesses and organizations, including Stewart Industries, DTI Mechanical and Duncan Aviation. They are coming together to define and create the Battle Creek Central High School Career Academy.”
This initiative will create opportunities for young people in Battle Creek to pursue careers in a host of different fields.
Joe Sobieralski, president and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, said these various partnerships and collaborations will lay the foundation for continued economic growth and development in Battle Creek.
“This is going to help accelerate economic development activities,” Sobieralski said. “When you have an institution like GVSU setting up shop here, that’s very positive for the city. If you look at universities overall in Michigan, they’re seeing declines, but GVSU is the second most popular choice of Michigan high school graduates.”
Carter said a major part of the overall plan under the partnership will focus on workforce development and economic development and reinvestment in the community. She said BCU remains a stakeholder in these efforts.
“It’s not just that the business community needs to support us,” Carter said. “We need to support them so they have a talent pool to reach into to continue to grow their own businesses in the community.”
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