GRPS Centers of Innovation: It Takes a Whole Community

Launched in 2007 by then-Superintendent Bernard Taylor, Jr., the Centers of Innovation takes five schools whose structures have been redesigned to foster public/private partnerships and offer students and their parents more school choices. The five centers include the University Prep Academy (UPrep), the Academy for Design and Construction (Union campus), the Grand Rapids Area Pre College Engineering Program, also known as GRAPCEP (Creston), School of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship (Ottawa) and finally, the School of Health, Science and Technology (Central).

Each of the centers is proving to have positive results in attracting new students and parents alike. The University Prep Academy (UPrep Center) is the first official innovation center in the education model and has the most traditional format. There are many benefits to this program, including smaller class sizes, typically capped at 18 students. The best benefit of a small class size is perhaps the individualized learning plans cultivated by both parents and teachers to include key components and internships based on the student’s interest.

In a time where West Michigan leads the nation in LEED-certified construction, the Academy for Design and Construction (ADC) is on trend to help its students be prepared to enter the field. Here, each student is assigned a mentor in the industry to provide real-world experience, enhancing the curriculum. Students might take classes in blueprint reading or building laws.  

GRAPCEP may be a mouthful to say, but this program stands alone in the region for providing dedicated curriculum to students who intend to pursue careers in technology, engineering, mathematics and sciences. Sponsored by several university partners and many local businesses, the students who participate boast a 90 percent college enrollment rate directly following high school.

Focusing on 9-11th grades with future intentions of adding programming for the 12th grade, the School of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship is designed to show entrepreneurship as a viable career option through exposure to area businesses and the teaching of vital skills for the business world, such as problem-solving and effective decision-making.
The final school of innovation is the School of Health, Science and Technology (HST). The HST is partnered with the top medical providers, health care institutions and higher education locations in the region. And as of this 2011-12 academic year, HST is available for grades 9-12.

Misty Stalllworth has the Asst. Principal of ADC for the last three years, and feels the introduction of the centers has changed GRPS for the better. “Before my years with ADC, I never understood the value that community partnerships could have on the educational process," she says. "The Academy for Design and Construction has over 30 community partnerships with leading industry professionals who dedicate endless hours to supporting our students through curriculum writing, mentoring and providing real-world experiences. I believe these partnerships make all the difference and truly set us apart from a traditional classroom setting."

Dan LaMore, Sr. VP of The Christman Company and one of the more than 30 community partners, took time to give an example of how the partnerships with the Centers for Innovation are having a lasting impact on our community. “The ADC has a very strong partnership with Habitat for Humanity. This partnership provides hands-on learning for the students, and more importantly, provides these young students exposure to real-world social and economic issues within our community and an opportunity to help make a difference.”

Another of the key components to the success behind the COI is that there is a strong commitment to providing mentors who work in the industry the students are learning about. When talking with President of Rockford Construction, Tom McGovern, you will quickly see that the mentoring relationship is vital. “Everyone involved with the Centers of Innovation has worked together to build the right curriculum and a major part of that has been the mentoring program. We have approximately 20 mentors [in the Academy for Design and Construction]; that is about a 2:1 ratio for every student to mentor.” And it's this influence that these mentors have on the curriculum that keeps the information current for the industry.  
Cynthia Freeman is a current mentor and offered her experience in working with the students. “In working with the COI, I have learned that the GRPS district needs the assistance of the community to further the education of its students. For example, I have been able to offer perspective on other options available in the students’ future, such as college or trade programs.  In talking with one my students, I learned that she had not considered how to get to her goal of becoming an interior designer. With my background in interior design, I was able to provide information on schools and what to expect from design programs. I also gave some options of careers in the design field. My experience has shown me that the students are provided with that extra knowledge that will separate them from their peers after completing high school.”

Expanding community social consciousness while broadening student’s opportunities with real- world experience from mentors and hands-on involvement is proving to be just one of the many benefits the Centers of Innovation are bringing to the Grand Rapids Public School system. Currently, the Centers for Innovation are taking applications for the 2012-13 school year.

To find out more about the Centers and see which may be right for your student, head to the GRPS website to get more information and download an application.
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