What is our community’s greatest need?”
That was the question John Wilson asked various leaders in Mason County after he and his wife, Anita Wilson, founded the Pennies from Heaven Foundation in 2012. Lynne Russell, executive director of the United Way of Mason County, answered, “To think differently.”
Since then, the two organizations have worked closely to develop a strategy to make Mason County a “community of choice.” The strategy and work that has been accomplished thus far was presented today as a prelude to the Gateway to Success (G2S) Academy press conference and groundbreaking held at 9 a.m. in the West Shore Bank Room of the Ludington Library.
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G2S: PART OF THE BIG PICTURE
Gateway to Success Academy Board President Don Fallis and Interim Superintendent/Principal James Bandstra will present information about G2S during today’s conference. The conference will also serve as a groundbreaking ceremony for the beginning of the G2S facility renovations.
Bandstra said that with a graduation rate of less than 80 percent in Mason, Oceana, and Lake counties, there are approximately 120 high school students who don’t receive a diploma each year.
“Many students are facing challenges outside of the classroom that impact their ability to learn,” said G2S Board President Don Fallis. He said that diet, family challenges, homelessness, low-income homes, or just being a different kid are a few examples of those challenges.
“Local superintendents recommend the charter approach, as it would create a public school, with its own district, that can be flexible in its methods to support the individual needs of students,” said Fallis.
The primary means of instruction selected for G2S is project-based learning. Bandstra defined project-based learning as a method that allows personalization combined with academic content in a relevant context.
“Research shows that the model provides unique benefits to at-risk students,” said Bandstra. “Studies showed improved attitudes and motivation, increased engagement and attendance, and better retention and deeper understanding of information.”
A development team comprised of a group of local educators, commissioned by the G2S board, identified ten exemplary ideas observed during site visits to different project-based learning organizations. Those ten ideas have been incorporated into the G2S school design.
They are: 1) A focus on literacy infused across the curriculum, 2) Highly engaging teacher initiated project work, 3) Innovative areas of speciality developed around the arts and technology, 4) Integration of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), 5) Blended learning environment which also allows for access to course work in an online format, 6) Use of Title, At-Risk, And Special Education funds to provide additional reading supports and staff resources, 7) Emphasis on collaborative planning time for staff, 8) cross curricular course offerings, 9) Learning management system designed for project-based learning, 10) School wide learning outcomes.
“We’re focusing on the most critical issues of the community,” Russell said of the recent projects of the UWMC and the Pennies from Heaven Foundation. “We believe that if we can remove barriers that prevent people from being successful and bridge the gap between the areas of greatest need, we can begin to create a path of teaching a man to fish for a lifetime.”
Wilson said the groundbreaking of G2S seemed like a good time to let people know how all of the programs fit together and why they are deserving of (community) support.
“Not graduating from high school pretty much determines what the rest of one’s life is going to look like,” said Wilson. He said he equates the community to being a big family. “That’s not the path we want to start our family members out on. Our ESD’s graduation rate is just under 80 percent. As a family, I think we should strive to do much better.”