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Grand Rapids resident offers Covenant House grads unique scholarship opportunity

June 25, 2014 by · No Comments · Uncategorized


Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids students celebrate graduation. Photo from June 18, 2014

Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids recently said farewell to 26 students, many of whom plan on enrolling in college. However, for a select few students, going to college will nearly be cost free.

A Grand Rapids woman – who has asked to remain anonymous – has set up a competitive scholarship that gives recent Covenant House graduates the opportunity to attend Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) for a fraction of the cost.

The woman said the scholarship would cover “most, but not all” of the expenses a student might face attending GRCC, but also said that the scholarship is applicable to the recipient as long as he or she stays in school.

“It is not just a one year thing,” she said. “Once a student has the scholarship, they can be funded all the way until they earn their degree.”

As of graduation night, three students had received the scholarship.

The donor has been involved with Covenant House since the 1980′s when she lived in New York City. She recalled seeing the young adults who would be at Covenant House, which serves homeless youth, and couldn’t help feeling a personal connection to them.

“I would see these young boys and girls who were living on the street and think, ‘What if that was my son? What if that was my daughter?’” she said.

She and her husband became frequent donors to Covenant House and continued to donate even after moving to Michigan. Around 2005, the donor said she met Sam Joseph, the founder of Covenant House Michigan. After her husband passed away, she wanted to create a scholarship in his name. With Joseph’s help, together they came up with the scholarship  for Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids graduates.

When asked about how she felt seeing the students graduate and move onto higher education, she smiled, tears coming to her eyes.

“Simply, great pleasure,” she said.

West Michigan robotics team tops in the nation

May 9, 2014 by · No Comments · Uncategorized


The Black River Public School robotics team (from left to right): Joseph Dalecke, Jacob Brents, Andrew Petter, Will Lowry, Evan Brisita, and Noah Ehmann.

Very few people are declared world champions.

Even fewer earn that distinction while they are still in high school.

But for a handful of students at Black River Public School (Holland, MI.), they now get to get to call themselves world champions of robotics.

During the last weekend of April, the robotics team from BRPS teamed up with students from Holland High School and traveled to St. Louis, Mo., for the FIRST Robotics World Championship competition. The group was one of 400 teams from around the world to participate in the contest, and at the end of the weekend was part of the winning alliance (a larger group comprised of players from four different teams).

What makes it even more remarkable is that this is only the second year of competition for the BRPS robotics team.

“It is such a big difference between last year and this year,” said Noah Ehmann, a junior at BRPS.

BRPS principal Shannon Brunink echoed that statement.

“A huge difference came with just the merger of Holland High School and our school,” he said. “It turned into more collaboration than competition.”

The path to the championship started in January when the team had six weeks to build their robot. At the end of the building session is “bag day”, where the team has to seal their robot in a giant plastic bag. To be eligible for competitions, the robot has to be sealed and tagged with the date, even if it is not complete. From there, the team cannot open the bag until competitions start. Evan Brisita, a junior, said the BRPS team was feeling a little extra pressure going into their first competition.

“We were a little nervous because we hadn’t had a chance to really test it,” Brisita said. “We lost a lot of our build time due to snow days.”

However, as soon as the first competition started, the BRPS team could feel something special starting.

“We really had a wake-up call [at Grand Valley State University],” Ehmann said. “That’s when we knew we could go really far.”

Here’s the short version of how the the competitions work: Each team uses its robot and human players to earn as many points as possible in a set time period. Points can be earned in a variety of ways, such as having the robot throw an exercise ball through goals with varying point possibilities.  The team with the most points wins the match.

The team continued its dominance in the regional round, earning a spot for the world competition. During the initial matches in St. Louis, the team was scouted by other teams from around the country, a practice that is used to build alliances for the competition. The BRPS team was selected to be on an alliance with teams from San Jose, Calif.; Bloomfield Hills; and Dallas, Texas. By the end of the weekend, they would become the No. 1 ranked alliance in the world.

And with representatives from NASA, Google, the Air Force, and many other notable tech giants in the audience, it was a good time to be the best.

Still, the team has even higher expectations for itself outside of the competitions.

Ehmann, Brisita, and a majority of the robotics team are upperclassmen and will be moving on to college soon. Andrew Petter, a junior himself, said it is important for the team to use their winning momentum to push the program to new heights.

“We want to start training younger students and work with the middle school program,” Petter said. “We want to see this have continued success.

Another goal the team established is to provide more community outreach opportunities and work with with local businesses to find more marketing opportunities to spread the word about the team and what it offers to students.

Sounds like they already know what it takes to be repeat champions.




Detroit students participate in TEDxGrandRapids

May 8, 2014 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

For the first time ever, the Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office (CSO) teamed up with TEDxGrandRapids to live stream the TED conference to students in Detroit. Approximately 100 ninth and tenth-grade students attending Cornerstone Health High School spent the day involved with activities focused on the theme of this year’s conference, “What’s Connected?”

Robert Kimball, Deputy Director of Charter Schools at the GVSU CSO, said this partnership was a way to “bridge the east and west sides of Michigan and integrate Detroit schools in West Michigan efforts to fuel positive social change.”

The students spent the first part of the day listening to discussions about the impact technology and education has on human connection. The speakers included TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, University of Michigan professor Bob Bain, and Clement Chiwaya, the Chief Whip of the United Democratic Front.

One speech that stuck out to the students came from Roberto Rivera, who shared his personal story about reshaping his life after having a troubled time as a youth. Rivera, who is the president of The Good Life Alliance PBC, works to find new ways to connect youth development with community development. He shared stories about working with schools and students that had been labeled as “the worst” and finding strategies that propelled them to new levels of achievement.

During the second half to the day, the students participated in group activities that promoted skills like teamwork, communication, public speaking, and professional networking. They also had a chance to interact with GVSU undergrad students who volunteered to help with the event.

The GVSU CSO is looking to expand the event next year to include more students from Detroit high schools.

Detroit students take a new approach on science fair

March 7, 2014 by · No Comments · Uncategorized


Students at Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School showcased their problem-solving skills by holding a unique science fair called Design Thinking Challenges that inspected issues faced in everyday life.

Each class cohort, grades K-5, picked out a team of community leaders to work with and represent their project. Approximately 20 teams presented prototypes they developed that could potentially change the life of an adult, child, or pet. The teams were then paired with a “user” who helped demonstrate the prototype.

Some students, like fourth-grader Amaurion Moore, chose to work with people his class met on field trips.

“In our Design Thinking Challenge we went on a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Second Baptist Church,” he said. “We interviewed some people who work in those places. What they said helped us make our prototype.”

Moore and his teammates were challenged to develop a way for families to take advantage cultural resources of Detroit. They came up with an idea of a hand scanner that could tell a person about ancestors who helped Detroit.

“It can help you learn your heritage,” Moore said.

Principal Curtis Lewis said projects like the Design Thinking Challenges gives students the opportunity to use what they’ve learned to generate ideas on how to benefit the world around them.

“They feel like they are valuable members of their communities and that their opinions, thoughts and ideas matter,” Lewis said. “We see Design Thinking not as an add-on, but rather an integral process for cultivating skills like perseverance, endurance, and grit…essential skills to be successful in life.”

To learn more about the Design Thinking Challenge  and see photos from the event, visit



Grand Rapids elementary students jump up and over fundraising goal

February 10, 2014 by · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Fifth-grade students at William C. Abney Academy Elementary prepare to start their Jump Rope for Heart event.

Fifth-grade students at William C. Abney Academy Elementary prepare to start their Jump Rope for Heart event.

Scott Westhouse had a goal: teach students about heart health and raise money in the process.

The gym teacher at William C. Abney Academy (WCAA) Elementary got more than he expected.

On February 6 the entire student body at WCAA Elementary participated in Jump Rope For Heart, a national exercise program sponsored by the American Heart Association that raises awareness about heart disease. In the weeks leading to the event, Westhouse had set a donation goal for the students to send the AHA.

“I set the goal at $150,” he said, “and as of [February 6] we had raised over $600.”

Westhouse announced the accomplishment to his first group of students, the fifth-grade class, as the event kicked off. After a big cheer from the fund-raisers, it was time to jump.

Westhouse led the students through 40 minutes of jump rope activities. They worked on different types of jumps like using one foot or crossing the rope before jumping over it.

“This is my first year doing Jump Rope for Heart here,” he said after the fifth-grade class finished their jump rope session. “I just wanted to do something that showed them that your heart is very important and should be cared for.”

Principal Jamie Versluis said each of the other grades would perform similar “jumping plans,” focusing on jump rope movements that best suited each grade level.

“The older students have been practicing specific jumping techniques while our younger grade levels have done more movements with a stationary jump rope.”

WCAA Elementary has been focusing on heart health for weeks now, with Jump Rope for Heart being their main event for fundraising and awareness.

Detroit art students, teacher winners at art contest

February 7, 2014 by · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Joshua Williams in front of his award-winning art piece.

Joshua Williams in front of his award-winning art piece.

Two students and a teacher from Henry Ford Academy: School of Creative Studies (HFA:SCS) recently went home as winners from a McDonald’s art contest celebrating black history month.

Detroit-area McDonald’s owners awarded Joshua Williams, a 10th-grade student at HFA:SCS, the first-place prize of $2,000  for his portrait of Nelson Mandela, while 12th-grader Joshua Rainer received a $125 Visa gift card for being a 4th-place finalist. Williams’s art teacher Manal Kadry was also awarded $375 for the being the instructor of the overall winner.

Williams and Rainer were two of 12 finalists in the 2014 “McDonald’s Celebrates Black History Moments on Canvas” art contest. They joined the other finalists on Jan. 31 at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art for the unveiling of the winning works, which will be on display the entire month of February.

“The caliber of submissions for this year’s McDonald’s Black History Month art contest is a testament to the many creative and talented students living in metro Detroit,” said gallery owner George N’Namdi. “I am proud to host this exhibit…and encourage visitors to join us as we honor and pay tribute to African-American history, and honor our community’s young talent.

According to McDonald’s, the goal of the art competition is to encourage research and thought among southeast Michigan teens about African-Americans’ contributions to American and world history.

“We are so proud of these incredibly gifted young people who presented beautiful works that highlight the history, heritage and accomplishments of black people,” said McDonald’s owner/operator Jon Campbell.

This is not the first time art work from HFA:SCS has made its way into the public eye.

Students from the school partnered with Detroit artist Hubert Massey to create large murals that currently hang in Grand Valley State University’s Detroit Center and Seidman College of Business in downtown Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids students lend helping hand to homeless families

February 3, 2014 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Students from William C. Abney Academy Middle School recently completed their first major community service project of the the 2013-2014 school year after visiting Family Promise of Grand Rapids, an organization that looks to provide meals and housing options for families dealing with homelessness.

Members of the school’s student leadership council spent two hours preparing and serving a spaghetti dinner for parents and children at Family Promise. The students, ranging from 6th-grade to 8th-grade, also reorganized the on-site food pantry and designed welcome cards for the families.

Ricky Hubbert and Eric Large, both staff members at William C. Abney Academy, work closely with the student leadership council and offered guidance as they performed their service duties.

“Most of them had some cooking experience beforehand, but we were showing them some proper cooking techniques and tricks,” Large said. “It was really cool watching them go.”

Hubbert  said the service project was an opportunity for students to not only offer help, but to also learn more about the issues the families face.

“We wanted to show them that bad times can fall upon anybody,” Hubbert said, “We wanted to educate them and show them that being homeless doesn’t always mean it is drug related or that the person did something wrong.”

Large and Hubbert said they plan on working with Family Promise again after seeing the enthusiasm the students had for the project.

The student leadership council is now planning a community service project with a “going green” theme for the spring.




Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids graduates its first class

December 19, 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Principal Doreen Mangrum poses for a picture with new graduate Brianna Wedgeworth

Principal Doreen Mangrum poses for a picture with new graduate Brianna Wedgeworth

On December 18, eight students at Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids donned caps and gowns to receive their high school diplomas, becoming the new school’s first graduating class.

While the number is small, the significance is much larger. The graduating students, like all other students at Covenant House Academies, had either aged out of the traditional high school system or were technically considered homeless. For many of them, Covenant House was the last opportunity they had to graduate.

Principal Doreen Mangrum addressed the students during the ceremony, saying they were now examples of the turnaround students at Covenant House can make.

“Covenant House can give students hope,” she said, “and you all stayed, worked, learned…and here you are today. That is hope.”

Jason Coppens, the secretary of the board of directors, offered similar words of encouragement.

“The difference between you and those who don’t have their diploma is you never gave up,” he said.

The ceremony was filled with notable speakers.  Susan Heartwell, wife of Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell, gave the commencement address. Superintendent Stan Childress and Board President Dan Weingartz spoke on the dedication the students. Sam Joseph, the CEO of Covenant House Academies in Michigan, talked about how the school act as more than an institution.

“Here at Covenant House, we are part of your family,” he said to the graduates.

Amiah Natasha Berry-France, who received the Dove Award for overcoming educational barriers,  reiterated that feeling.

“Thank you Ms. Mangrum for treating me like family,” she said.

Here are the names of the students who graduated:

Trevon Armstrong,

Amiah Natasha Berry-France

Christopher Hernandez (Valedictorian)

Norma Martinez (Salutatorian)

Hussain Mohamadali

Latrice Perkins

Latisha Lynn Thompson

Brianna Wedgeworth.


School hopes to raise awareness for homeless through candlelight vigil

November 22, 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

People gather outside of Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids to honor homeless youth

People gather outside of Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids to honor homeless youth

Approximately 75 people gathered at the recently-opened Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids to participate in its first candlelight vigil to  raise awareness against youth homelessness.

The vigil is an annual tradition at Covenant House academies, which provide schooling for people between ages 16-22 who suffer from poor living conditions or lack other education opportunities. Vigils are usually held during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

The hour-long event was filled with speakers as well as song and prayer.

Students from the academy shared their stories of how Covenant House has helped them. All of the student speakers, like 17-year-old Desmond Jones, said that the academy had become a big part of turning their lives around.

“The Covenant House is a blessing for me,” Jones said, “it has become a lifeline for me to help break down barriers that once held me back in life.”

Additional speakers included Sam Joseph, the executive director for Covenant House Michigan, and Teresa Weatherall Neal, the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools. Each offered encouragment for the academy.

“The Covenant House is near and dear to my heart,” Neal said. “We believe in you, you are making me proud.”

Joseph pointed out that while larger vigils were being held around the country, the one in Grand Rapids was just as important.

“Great things happen in small ways,” he said, “and we can start to prevent adult homelessness by trying to prevent youth homelessness.”

According to Building Administrator Doreen Mangrum, approximately 40 of the 200 students at Covenant House Academy of Grand Rapids are considered homeless, but that number may be even higher.

“Many of our students don’t even know they are technically homeless,” she said.

Mangrum said that some of those students simply never knew the characteristics that define homelessness. She believes the vigil will not only help raise awareness for the community, but within her own building too.

“We are hearing a lot more stories now from our students about their lives,” she said. “You could see a lot of them thinking about their own situations.”

Mangrum also said she hopes people will learn about Covenant House and extend a helping hand to those in need.

“Take time to become aware of the homeless situation in Grand Rapids,” she said, “and know we cannot do this alone.”

Vanderbilt Charter Academy welcomes nationally recognized anti-bullying program

October 18, 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Rachel's Challege representative Peter DeAnello works with students during a demonstration of positive behavior.

Rachel’s Challege representative Peter DeAnello works with students during a demonstration of positive behavior.

On Thursday, Oct. 10, Vanderbilt Charter Academy teamed up with Rachel’s Challenge to hold a day-long program about anti-bullying and attitude adjustment. Rachel’s Challenge, a nationally-recognized campaign against bullying and negative influences, is based around the writings of Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed during the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.

The program offered presentations for K-5 students in the morning, and a dual morning and afternoon session for the middle school students.

Principal Holly Hillary was very pleased to bring Rachel’s Challenge to the school.

“Being kind to one another sets the foundation of a successful school,” she said. “When there is respect, everything else will fall into place, and it is important for everyone to know how a few words can go a long way.”

The morning session for the middle school students focused on the life of Scott. Peter DeAnello, the Rachel’s Challenge representative, showed the students video clips of the shooting’s news coverage as well as testimonials about Scott and her journal that started the campaign.

In the afternoon, the middle-schoolers were asked to share how they were impacted by Scott’s story. After some initial hesitation students started speaking up, many sharing tearful stories of how Scott’s story reminded them of a difficult time in their own lives.

“Rachel’s story about how she supported people let me know someone is always there to care for you,” said Jason Lowther, a 6th-grader who was the first to speak to his peers.

The students were then asked to form small groups and discuss how Vanderbilt could make changes to “start a chain reaction of positivity.” DeAnello also challenged the students to take an oath to take a stand against bullying and negative behavior. He then layed out a large Rachel’s Challenge banner, telling the students that only those who are truly serious about following the oath could sign the banner.

Judging by the hundreds of signatures on the banner at the end of the day, the first link to the chain may already be set.