Executive Administrator Erik Spindler says the Morey Foundation has been tracking the changing face of education for decades. “Our mission is to support Isabella county,” he explained, “If we can educate our students here and keep our students here, we’re helping our community.”
Morey FlexTech High School, a tuition-free public charter opening in Shepherd early next month, is the foundation’s newest attempt to do just that, and it’s been a long time in the making. Spindler says the school has been foundation patriarch Lon Morey’s ultimate vision since before the Morey Montessori school opened over 20 years ago in the building just adjacent to where Morey FlexTech will welcome its first students early next month.
Spindler says the foundation has always wanted to bring practical education to the area, and they’re excited to see the FlexTech approach in action with the inaugural class. “Instead of worksheets and tests, they’re making and creating things — not only do they know, but they can do,” he says, with a heavy emphasis on, “do.”
Morey FlexTech High School promises students the opportunity to pursue their educational passions through project-based learning. The facility at 380 W. Blanchard Road will house the third FlexTech high school in Michigan. Operated by for-profit CS Partners, the same company that operates Renaissance Public School Academy in Mt. Pleasant, FlexTech also has high schools in Novi and Brighton, Michigan.
The Shepherd school will serve just high school freshmen and sophomores in its first year or two of operation, but open to eleventh and twelfth graders in subsequent years. Philip Janis, Morey FlexTech Principal, says twenty-five students will help kick off the first official day of the 2018-19 school calendar on September 4, but he expects attendance to continue to grow throughout the year. By May Janis says the new school will likely be home to between forty and fifty youth. At capacity, they will eventually serve somewhere between 150 and 200 students each year.
Flexible classrooms, schedules, and curriculums have been making waves across the nation in recent years. Allowing students the opportunity to deep dive on their passions, explore new possibilities, and practice self-leadership has been widely embraced by educators as the way of the future.
Janis points out that not every student learns the same way. “We have the opportunity to serve students who aren’t getting what they need in a traditional school,” he says. “We have a smaller setting, there’s extra attention from teachers, and students can forge better relationships as well.”
Spindler thinks these are the same reasons parents are attracted to Morey FlexTech. “In a small community you have to offer something different,” he explains, “we see them wanting to get away from cliques, from bullying issues. They’re interested in the smaller class sizes and attention. And then there is the project-learning.”
Students at the school will have the opportunity to take ownership over their own education, leading the way with hands-on projects, research, and coursework that interests them. “Part of what’s exciting about project based learning is that we’re able to take advantage of opportunities to use real world applications,” says Janis.
As part of those real world applications, students at Morey FlexTech will get to solve problems and gain real life experience alongside area businesses. Though Spindler says those opportunities are still in the intention stage — “you know the point where we have all these great intentions,” he joked — the reception has been strong so far. The opportunities will be worked out through the school’s partnership with the Central Michigan Manufacturing Association which represents over 100 local businesses.
“We think through the hands on experience of learning we can provide a better pathway for students than what already exists in the area,” say Spindler, “I think the school is an economic development model. When you get local business involved in education it gives students an idea what career paths are available.”
Though Spindler says one of the Morey Foundation’s main goals in opening the school is helping students avoid being pushed too heavily towards a four-year degree that may leave them unemployable in their hometowns and saddled with debt, Janis says he expects students will find many viable paths into the future.
“With tech in the name people automatically go to skilled trades,” says Janis, “but we have kids who go on to four-year higher education in a wide variety of industries, too. We do attract kids who like to learn with hands on, but there are a lot of ways to incorporate a wide variety of interests.”
For his part Spindler agrees that if students are gaining an effective way to learn and explore different career paths, the foundation will be happy watching them enter whatever industry they want. “Hopefully they’re becoming aware of different career fields,” he says, “If we can help a student understand plumbing isn’t just a dirty job, it’s lucrative and in demand even better.”