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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.

“Teacher of the Year” finalist from Grand River Preparatory High School

October 15, 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Kurt Steiner works with a student at Grand River Preparatory High School

Kurt Steiner works with a student at Grand River Preparatory High School

When Kurt Steiner saw the email saying he had been selected as a “Teacher of the Year” finalist, he didn’t believe it.

No, really, he didn’t believe it.

“I thought it was a joke from Doug Wilson, our assistant principal,” Steiner said, laughing. “I thought it was one of those fake emails that always say ‘You won!’”

It wasn’t a joke. The Latin teacher from Grand River Preparatory High School was one of five teachers chosen as finalists for the  Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) Teacher of the Year award. The winner will be announced Wednesday, Nov. 5, during the Michigan Charter School Conference.

Steiner said the initial nomination came from Jaclyn Timmer, a collegue of his. He then was asked to fill out a questionaire and provide two letters of support, which would be the materials used to determine the finalists.

Steiner said he was amazed to be a finalist in just his fifth year of teaching, but the nomination also gave him a strange feeling.  He credited his success to the school environment and the collaboration he has with other teachers.

“I’m excited, but I think there are better teachers than me, even right here in Grand River Prep.,” he said.  ”A lot of practices I use in the classroom I learned from the other teachers.”

Steiner has been very humble with the nomination. Even his students don’t know he is a finalist.

“Not yet,” he said, “but a camera crew will be spending an afternoon in the classroom to gather footage for the conference, so they’ll learn about it soon enough.

After that, it becomes a waiting game for Steiner, who said he will definitely be “feeling the butterflies” as he learns if he wins.

“I mean, I don’t even know if I’ll have to give a speech if I win. I might have to and just have to wing it,” he said, smiling.



William C. Abney Elementary students insipire 2013 ArtPrize program

October 8, 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Last year, approxametly 75 third-grade students from William C. Abney Elementary created “whispering poetry tubes” and submitted the project into ArtPrize. That submission inspired more than 2,000 students from around Michigan to create the same project one year later.

Students from more than 15 charter schools came to Grand Rapids to make their own decorative tubes, which are used to create unique one-on-one poetry readings, as part of Grand Valley’s ArtPrize Education Days program. The tubes the students made in 2012 served as examples for the program attendees.

Some of the Whispering Poetry Tubes designed by William C. Abney Elementary students

Some of the Whispering Poetry Tubes designed by William C. Abney Elementary students

The (now fourth-grade) students who particpated in the original project were excited to hear about the impact of their poetry tubes.

“I think it’s really good that we inspired them because it will show the other students they can make anything and get better at art,” Ricardio Pantojas said.

Myleeyah Staten agreed with Pantojas.

“It’s good because they can be creative in their own way,” she said.

William C. Abney art teacher Nicole Fritsch recalled the project and the benefits it provided for her students when it was initially introduced.

“It was something really fun that gave them a different look at art,” Fritsch said. “It allowed them to be creative from scratch.”

Fourth-grader Ethan Valdez said he really liked that aspect because he could “think of anything from around the world and put it on his tube.”

In addition to being used as examples for the ArtPrize Education Days the poetry tubes from William C. Abney were displayed in a tent featuring other ArtPrize submissions from GVSU-authorized charter schools. The tubes were available to the public to use for their own poetry readings.

Global Heights Academy seeing immediate results from new behavior program.

September 27, 2013 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Shawn Robson had heard about last year’s diciplinary issues at Global Heights Academy.

“It was bad,” said the first-year principal. “Students were acting out all the time and teachers were constantly sending them to the principal’s office. It was a mess.”

But thanks to a new behavior program, that mess is starting to be cleaned up.

At the start of the school year Global Heights Academy introduced  CHAMPS – Classwide Positive Behavior Support . The behavior program assists teachers in building classroom plans that focus on proactive approaches to dicipline. Robson said teachers now turn students’ poor choices into learning experiences instead of  incidents of scolding and reprimand. Because of this change in dicipline Robson said he is already seeing results.

“We’ve had zero office referals so far,” he said, “even though it’s only been three weeks, that’s a whole lot better than last year.”

Crystal Baker, a second-grade teacher at Global Heights, said her students quickly embraced the program.

“It gives them better structure, so they now know what to expect and can refer to [CHAMPS] daily,” she said. “Building-wide, students are more in charge for themselves.”

According to Robson, teachers use a five step process titled STOIC to guide their diciplinary plan. STOIC steps include building a structure for the classroom, changing teaching behavior, classroom observation, positive interaction, and correction. After 10 weeks Robson and his staff revisit the plans and discuss strengths and weaknesses.

“If something is not working, then we talk about how we can make it better,” he said.

When asked about any early struggles with the program, Robson said some of his youngest students were reluctant to learn the system.

“You would think that the older kids wouldn’t really embrace the change, but to be honest it’s been the kindergarteners that are a little difficult. I think it is because for some of them this is the first time they have every really experienced any type of dicipline, especially those that don’t come from a good home environment.”

For Robson, the main concern isn’t how or when an attitude change is made, but that it actually happens.

“To me, I think we need to change the attitude about going to school before we change the achievement,” he said. “We need to get these kids back to enjoying school and acting appropriately at school, because as soon as that happens is when we will see our achievement grow with it.”

So far, it seems CHAMPS is putting Global Heights in the right direction.