Through an executive order, Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently created the new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP)
program, naming Michelle Richard as the director. The department was created to help increase access to early childhood education and post-secondary education programs.
Student in the Bullock Creek Pre-K program
According to the State of Michigan Education Department, 90% of a child’s brain develops by age five, making early learning opportunities vital to children’s brain development. Midland County school districts offer a variety of Pre-K programs to help prepare four year olds for Kindergarten. These methodologies differ between districts but the challenge for every school is to make these opportunities available to all.
Shawn Hale is the superintendent of the Bullock Creek Schools.
For many districts these opportunities are coordinated through local partnerships with area nonprofits. Shawn Hale, Superintendent of Bullock Creek School District
, says his district has partnered with West Midland Family Center to operate early education programs at both Floyd Elementary and Bullock Creek Elementary. This collaboration provides early education opportunities to young children but also affords parents flexibility around their work schedule. “It helps our parents who have to be to work early or need after school coverage for their jobs”, said Hale. Bullock Creek schools also offer unique opportunities for children to learn outside the traditional classroom as part of their Pre-K curriculum. “We also have a really strong nature education program, and through our partnership with Chippewa Nature Center we’ve found a number of parents who want to continue that nature education. So all our K-2 programs offer nature based learning.”
Jennifer McCormack is the superintendent of the Coleman Community Schools.
Jen McCormack, Superintendent for Coleman Community Schools
has also benefited from partnering with local nonprofits. “For us, the ability to partner with the Coleman Family Center to offer preschool classes and activities on campus has been a great asset. We take all our staff on tours of the center so they get to see the programs first hand. This allows them to speak directly to parents about their benefits and opportunities”. In her time serving as superintendent, McCormack has seen the advantages of early education manifest itself in a variety of different programs, programs that MiLEAP may be able to take greater advantage of. “Over the last 8 years there’s been a lot more conversation about how we get more participation in Pre-K education at the state level,” said McCormack. “Through our collaborations with programs like GSRP, Head Start, and local preschools we can now offer more spaces and more opportunities for kids. It’s made us stronger as a district, and that collaboration has gotten stronger every year”.
Sarah Glann is the superintendent of the Meridian Public Schools.
At Meridian Public Schools
the district's Early Childhood Center (ECC) has 220 Pre-K students enrolled in their early education programs. “Having the Early Childhood Center allows us to maintain enrollment in our K-12 operations, and provides a direct service to our community.” said Sarah Glann, Meridian Public Schools Superintendent. “The Early Childhood Center students often become Mustangs for life, and the transition between Pre-K and Kindergarten is streamlined, so that the relationship between the ECC and the school benefits both our students and our teachers”.
In addition to the early childhood initiatives, MiLEAP also seeks to enhance career and technical education (CTE) opportunities for students to gain experience entering the job market post graduation. In Midland county this has led to a special partnership between local districts to offer career training in areas that would be financially prohibitive individually. Examples of this partnership include the AgScience program at Coleman Community Schools and Education Careers Program at Bullock Creek.
“Coleman has just begun our 11th year of offering AgriScience to all students in Midland County,” said McCormack. “And this year our Culinary Arts program has increased enrollment from 16 to 40, more than doubling in one year. I think that speaks to the skills that the students are taking with them when they graduate, whether it's college or the workforce.”
Eric Fisher, AgrisScience instructor, with some of the students
At Bullock Creek, CTE opportunities include both traditional skills like building trades, and more administrative focused career training for future educators. "We offer an educational careers program where students from each of the county schools come to Bullock Creek to learn about educational careers and receive placement in their own district where they work beside a teacher from their school, similar to a student teaching experience. It's a great opportunity if you’d like to experience what it's like to be an educator.” says Hale.
CTE training is only one avenue for students looking to make the most of their high school career. Michigan allows students to begin taking free dual enrollment classes in the 9th grade and continue to take up to ten dual enrollment courses overall in grades 9-12 according to the MI Student Aid
guidelines. There can be a number of financial advantages for students and families that take advantage of dual enrollment opportunities, and the process often enables students to gain a better understanding of what can be a complex college application and registration process. At Meridian, their Early College High School has 48% of seniors dual enrolled for college credits, including 36 5th year students attending college full time.
As the MiLEAP program evolves at the state level, local districts are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities presented in the new initiative. Through increased collaboration and a stronger support network from the State, Midland county districts hope to actualize these education opportunities for students at every district.
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