"We have been investing in Kent County for over 100 years," says Michelle Van Dyke, Heart of West Michigan United Way president and CEO. A century-old nonprofit designed to reduce poverty in West Michigan, United Way raises money, vets partner agencies, fund solutions, and mobilizes volunteers, according to their website. Recently, Van Dyke and the nonprofit set its sites on education, specifically in math and science, of youth in Kent County.
Conducting an assessment of the education needs of the community, United Way identified a gap in middle school STEM programming. Aiming to prepare this cross section of students in the area with adequate training in math and science, the nonprofit designated $589,000 of their 2017-2018 Community Investment Fund Grants to education
in these arenas.
"A broad array of what we're funding around the issue of middle school math and science. We need better achievement in those subject in order or kids to be ready for the jobs in this community," says Van Dyke.
Part of this funding, announced yesterday at Westwood Middle School, was allocated to a one-time gift to Grand Rapids Public Schools of a leading STEM curriculum by Discovery Education. After meeting with GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall McNeal last year, Van Dyke quickly determined that this partnership fit perfectly with both the nonprofit and the school district's missions of preparing students for future jobs.
This, says Van Dyke, is United Way's principal goal with specially tailored programs. "[We want to] make sure kids get a quality education and that they get opportunities that they need to get living wage jobs when they're adults. That's our aim," she says.
In addition to partnering with GRPS and providing this specialized curriculum for middle schoolers district-wide, United Way has teamed up with Camp Blodgett
to form a STEM Academy and STEM Club, Kent Intermediate School District
"training teachers how to be better science teachers and math teachers, as well as professional development in STEM subjects," and the Expanded Learning Opportunities Network
(ELO) to create a new STEAM strategy.
United Way is also working with The Refugee Education Center
to provide funding for academic intervention for those students who are learning English alongside their math and science curriculums.
Over the next three years, Van Dyke aims to equip Kent County students with the tools they need to master STEM and prepare themselves for careers in engineering, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing, among other industries.
For her, for GRPS, and for the many partner agencies throughout Kent County, it's simple:
"Our kids need to know math and science," says Van Dyke.