Government, Higher Education, and Real Estate

New high school to serve homeless and dropouts

May 3, 2013
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Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell called Grand Valley State University’s latest educational offering “a charter school unlike other charter schools.”

The mayor was referring to action the GVSU board of trustees took last week when they authorized four new charter high schools — one of which will be located in Grand Rapids.

The Covenant House Academy is a partnership between the university and Grand Rapids Public Schools. The new school will hold classes in the former Campau Park Elementary School, once a K-5 school, at 50 Antoine SW. GVSU bought the building from GRPS two weeks ago for $400,000.

Covenant House Academy will use specialized programming to serve students between the ages of 16 to 22 who are or were homeless or who have dropped out. Classes are set to begin in August.

“Grand Valley is looking forward to the creation of Covenant House and the opportunity it provides for the university to work with Grand Rapids’ young people,” said GVSU President Thomas Haas in a press release.

“We believe in the mission of educating students, and we believe this provides a powerful opportunity for our Charter Schools Office to help students with unique needs and to work with the Grand Rapids Public Schools for the betterment of the city of Grand Rapids,” added Haas.

GRPS and Covenant House officials also are working together on an agreement to share data and other services such as food service and school safety programs.

GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said she was proud to partner on Covenant House with GVSU. “Many of these students are going to age out of Grand Rapids schools or may have already dropped out,” said Neal of those expected to attend Covenant House.

“We need them to be productive members of society, so that’s why we are not just selling the building but partnering with both organizations to ensure they have a high-quality support system.”

Roughly 17 percent of families in the city live below the poverty line, while 86 percent of GRPS students live in poverty. Another 5,000 individuals in Grand Rapids are homeless. GVSU said the Covenant House Academy will be the first high school in the city to serve this population.

“It’s exciting to see what the schools are doing now,” said Heartwell. “This is yet another example of how Grand Rapids has solution-oriented organizations that work collaboratively for the well-being of our community’s children.”

Covenant House Academy will provide each student with an individualized educational development plan. The GVSU trustees also authorized Covenant House Academy Detroit, a group of three charter schools that will also serve at-risk and homeless students.

“Covenant House schools’ primary mission is helping high school dropouts and preventing homelessness by working with these students to achieve high school diplomas,” said Sam Joseph, executive director of Covenant House Michigan.

With the latest additions, GVSU now has authorized 51 charter schools.

Neal said GRPS is the fifth largest school district in the state with more than 17,000 students and is the city’s third-largest employer with 2,700 employees. “We don’t want to be just another school system,” said Neal. “We want to be the school system of choice.”

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