Special Report: Educational gateways for Lansing's next generation

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Tyler Elliott was angry. Anger consumed his life and exploded in high school. He fought. He didn't study. He made poor choices that caused him to get behind or fail classes. Continually off track, Elliott was eventually expelled from his Lansing school, jeopardizing his prospects for graduating.

Elliott knew he had two options. He could take his chances and pursue life without his diploma, or he could work toward graduating by attending an alternative high school.

In September 2014, Elliott decided to try again. He enrolled at Lansing's Woodcreek Achievement Center to complete high school, and to work through the struggles and behaviors that stood in his way. And as he neared graduation, he realized he needed additional skills for life beyond high school, and signed-up for Jobs for Michigan's Graduates—a state-wide program available at Woodcreek that provides academic and career readiness skills for students at-risk.

"I was 19 years old and had no clue how to make a resume or how to interview for a job," says Elliott. "I knew I was a year away from graduating and had never worked, so it would be beneficial for me to learn job and leadership skills."

Now, just months after graduating in June 2017, Elliott returned to Woodcreek and the JMG course. But this time, he's a visiting alum and guest speaker, talking about how he overcame obstacles that once seemed insurmountable. He shows that career-track employment is attainable with the right education and training, as evidenced by his new full-time job working in Lansing's growing IT field.Jill LaNew, JMG Specialist/Jobs for Michigan Graduates, Woodcreek Achievement Center/Lansing School District - Photo Dave Trumpie

"I would never be in this amazing full-time position in a career that I have dreamed of without JMG," says Elliott, a service desk agent at GreenStone Farm Credit. "The program gave me direction, helped me develop a positive attitude and showed me what being on the right track felt like."

Jobs for Michigan's Graduates is within the portfolio of educational and career readiness programs for Greater Lansing students. This article summarizes programs that prepare students for careers and life, plus those that help develop and retain talent for the region's growing science and technology sectors—including Teach Talent Thrive and Lansing Promise.

Jobs for Michigan's Graduates: Going beyond barriers

About 8 out of 10 high schoolers statewide received their diploma in 2015-16 according to Michigan School Data. And while that 79.65 percent approaches the recent national average of 83 percent, organizations focused on high school completion want to see Michigan's rate on the rise.

Jobs for Michigan's Graduates aims to push up graduation rates and make a difference for high school students. As part of the national Jobs for America's Graduates, the local affiliate of the statewide program has been active in Greater Lansing since 2012.

Like its parent organization, the state-based non-profit is devoted to preventing dropouts among students at-risk, and to encouraging those same students to pursue education and training beyond their diploma. With administrative oversight provided through Capital Area Michigan Works, JMG operates in the tri-country region through the Lansing School District, Peckham, Inc., and the Clinton Task Force on Employment.

Carrie Rosingana, chief operating officer for CAMW, says students accepted into the JMG program have barriers to graduation, and are typically low income, have a disability, or experience a combination of factors that stand in the way of their success. In 2012, 50 students enrolled in JMG. In 2016, the program served 104 youth—a 108 percent increase.

"These are students who haven't been successful traditionally, but by putting them within the support structures of the program, it helps them turn their lives around," says Rosingana. "The program can make an impact on their future and the future generations and families they will have."

The JMG program was first implemented in Potterville. Within five years, the program has grown to new sites, including Lansing's Woodcreek Achievement Center and various locations related to Waverly High School's alternative education programs. Students in JMG gain real-world work experience, tour or visit business and companies offering in-demand jobs, and become involved in various community service and leadership activities. Guest speakers are a constant presence. Mentors help guide career training and advise on employability and life skills. And once a year, students have a chance to attend and be recognized at the JMG leadership conference.

"We're empowering students to influence their own future," Rosingana says. "Many of these youth struggle to feel they have a place in our community. This program offers them a chance to be part of the bigger picture and to step outside of themselves and be part of something."Carrie Rosingana, Chief Operating Officer, Capital Area Michigan Works

Rosingana oversees six specialists and three managers. The Mid-Michigan program has been praised by Michigan Works for meeting or exceeding national standards. Successes include a 90 percent graduation rate, 60 percent full-time employment rate, and an 80 percent full-time placement rate beyond high school. Lansing School District employee and JMG Specialist Jill LaNew was also named the top specialist of the year in 2015 by the national organization.

LaNew has 30 kids age 17 through 19 in her Woodcreek classroom each year, and keeps in touch with students after they graduate. Most, she says, are one year behind in their grade level, lack work skills, and come from home environments that are not conducive to career abilities or success. Some also have special educational, emotional or social needs.

"Overall, JMG meets students where they are at," says LaNew. "We're not a one-size-fits all, which allows us to be a creative mentoring program."

Since 2012, LaNew has worked with 150 students, some enrolled for multiple years. All had dropped out or been expelled from their previous schools, and face an average of 9.6 identified barriers to high school completion. But with JMG, 99 percent receive their diploma or GED.

"Programs like JMG are essential for those students who are struggling with so much anger and other issues that a general school isn't working for them," she says. "When we can get these students to the point where they feel confident and cocky about themselves, they just take off and prove to everyone they can do it, and that they can be part of a world they didn't ever think they could be."

Teach Talent Thrive: Building a network of assets

While college and career can seem eons away for elementary school parents and students, some think it's never too early to prepare.

That thought process is evident in Teach Talent Thrive: a network of nearly 30 business and community leaders supporting talent development in the capital area—particularly through STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, Arts and Math) education.

"It all has to do with our kids," says Stan Kogut, a member of the T3 advisory council and former superintendent of Ingham Intermediate School District. "We want to be THE STEAM region in America, and we'll do that through talent development that fits the needs of our business community."

T3 emerged in 2016 from the previous "Keep Learning" initiative that formed in 2007 to develop a talented, skilled workforce to support the area's economic growth. While the original idea underscored that education is key to personal success and regional prosperity, many felt the initiative needed to increase private sector involvement in influencing the direction of K-12 education. 

First and foremost among priorities, Kogut says, is T3's basic commitment to support a K-12 system that provides all students the opportunity to excel in STEAM education.

Other goals include ensuring that students are college and career ready, and that more residents hold degrees, certificates or are well trained for the technological, international, knowledge-based economy. In Lansing, for instance, the U.S. Census reports that just 26 percent of people 25 years or older have a bachelor's degree compared to 49 percent in Ann Arbor, 46 percent in Madison, Wisconsin, or about 33 percent nationwide.

The T3 group will also promote non-traditional approaches to learning, and seek broad community understanding of new economy jobs and local businesses that grow those industries.

"We have some great industries and businesses in our area. We have state government. We have Michigan State University. And we have three counties that work very well together," says Kogut. "Now we need to get the business community to say, 'this is what we need,' and work with schools to identify and provide the courses and training."

Kogut says that type of symbiotic relationship can produce talent, jump-start careers, and contribute to the region's overall prosperity. The group is currently analyzing data collected through various partners, and devising strategies for college and career-readiness and workforce development.

Among the recommendations are expanding career tech programs across all grade levels, providing more early college and accelerated learning options, and advising students and parents on post-high school education options—including bachelor's, associate degrees and certification. The group will also promote non-traditional approaches to learning like apprenticeships, internships, mentoring, job shadows, competency-based instructions and hands-on experiences to support student exploration in and out of the classroom.

"Our major concept is we need to have a network led by the business community. That's a big change," says Kogut. "We've found that parents will listen to and trust the business community. They want their kids to be successful. We're trying to really help students, and this is a way we can also help our community continue to grow."

Lansing Promise: Committing to kids, community and future

Justin Sheehan believes if you ask 100 people what college readiness means, you'll get 500 answers.

"What we do know to be true is there are a lot of needs for any kid to be successful," says Sheehan. "One thing we're seeing more and more is being able to reach kids at a young age and showing them they can be somebody."

Sheehan is the executive director of Lansing Promise: a scholarship program that offers tuition assistance for post-secondary education to all eligible high school graduates within Lansing School District boundaries. That role, he says, has sharpened his resolve to help students overcome the social and economic barriers that can stand in the way of academic success. It's also shown him the power of community to ensure every student has the hope and means to graduate high school, attend college, and build a bright future.Justin Sheehan, Executive Director Lansing Promise - Photo Dave Trumpie

"We're starting to see very clearly that these are our kids, our community, our future—and that this is our promise to them," he says. "Kids are also beginning to see that there is not only hope, but that we, as a community, will walk with them."

Established in 2012, Lansing Promise has invested $1.2 million in scholarships for students attending public, private and home schools within the Lansing School District. The money comes from corporate and individual donors committed to giving each and every kid access to post-secondary education and career opportunities.

A Lansing Promise scholarship, Sheehan explains, supplements remaining tuition and fees after a student seeks and applies for federal funds to attend Lansing Community College, Michigan State University or Olivet College. The average Promise scholar receives about $5,000 up to a maximum of $6,400 for 65 credits after state and federal aid are applied.

To date, 758 students have been accepted into the program. The first four-year cohort in 2016 yielded 100 college graduations and certificate completions. As the cohorts continue to roll out, Lansing Promise will gather and analyze data to measure the success of all program scholarship recipients.

"We have graduates now working at a number of places in Greater Lansing," says Sheehan. "It's exciting to see folks in law school or going to medical school or into police or fire academies. We're seeing students in nursing, or with sights set on being engineers, accountants, programmers, most anything."

Sheehan says that the Lansing Promise is all about success after high school as are other core programs that involve partnerships with business and industry like Lansing Pathway Promise. Lansing area kids are attaining marketable degrees and skills that build futures for themselves and the community.

"The Lansing Promise creates a normal that we hope for every one of our kids," says Sheehan. "The question isn't if you are going to graduate, it's what are going to do after you graduate. If we invest early and often, if we raise up this generation, they will do it again and again. It's economic development, but it's the human side."

Ann Kammerer is the News Editor for Capital Gains and writes occasional features.

This article was created in partnership with Capital Area Michigan Works.

Q&A:  Toni Hughes Glasscoe, Ed.D.
Q&A: Toni Hughes Glasscoe, Ed.D.
Associate Vice President

Toni Hughes Glasscoe, Ed.D.
Associate Vice President
External Affairs, Development, & K-12 Operations

Why does LCC believe in supporting and offering programs for academic and career success—particularly for students at-risk?

Programs for students at-risk can motivate them to stay in school, earn their diploma, pursue additional education and training, and empower them with skills for work, jobs and careers. Not only are these programs good for students, they're good for employers and the economic prosperity of our region. Providing gateways to high school completion and a clear path to college or career training is just the right thing to do.

Why is student success important to our community?

Lansing Community College takes the community part of our name seriously. We're committed to Lansing's renaissance and to applying our resources and taxpayer dollars wisely. Programs focused on academic and career success aren't just about economic development, they're also about equity, inclusion and the greater good. While we want folks to stay and make Lansing home, we also know success takes many different forms. We're all about supporting people on their educational and career paths, and to helping them build positive, productive lives.

What general resources and wrap-around services does LCC provide? 

We have a lot of post-secondary options beyond those we offer along the high school- to college-pipeline. Our programs serve 18- to 24-year-olds, diverse or economically challenged populations, and returning adults, displaced workers and re-careering baby-boomers. We've added a team of education success coaches and managers who pull together all our wrap-around services, and ensure our students can access the resources that best suit their needs. 

You'll find LCC in places aside from our downtown and west campuses. We offer courses and services at extension centers and through partnerships with career and technical training centers and school districts. Some of our education and readiness programs start as early as kindergarten, and our online college programs are considered among the very best in the state of Michigan. Essentially, we're committed to closing gaps, removing roadblocks, ensuring academic success, and to building an educated and skilled workforce that strengthen all our futures and helps make Greater Lansing a place where people want to live, work and play.