Grand Valley State, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and Grand Rapids Mayor work to support Covenant House GR

Tim Wood, director of the Grand Valley Charter Schools Office, presents details about the new charter school plan to the Grand Valley Board of Trustees.
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Tim Wood, director of the Grand Valley Charter Schools Office, presents details about the new charter school plan to the Grand Valley Board of Trustees.
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The Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees voted to authorize four charter high schools at its April 29 meeting, including one in the city of Grand Rapids. This move represents another level of partnership between the university, the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the city of Grand Rapids.

Grand Valley will become the authorizer for Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids and Covenant House Academies Detroit. These charter high schools will serve students who are or were homeless or former school dropouts with specialized programming. The funding for services for these students is provided between the ages of 16 and 22.  

Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids will be housed in the former Grand Rapids Public Schools Campau Park Elementary building, which the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board agreed to sell to Covenant House at its meeting on April 22 for $400,000.

“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,” President Thomas J. Haas said. “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.”

The authorization of Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids is a continuation of the long-standing partnership between Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and the City of Grand Rapids that will ensure that all children have access to high-quality public schools. 

“I am very pleased and excited to partner with Covenant House and Grand Valley to serve children,” Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said. “Many of these students are going to age out of Grand Rapids schools or may have already dropped out. We need them to be productive members of society, so that’s why we are not just selling he building, but partnering with both organizations to ensure they have a high-quality support system.”

Covenant House Grand Rapids is targeted toward at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 22. GRPS and Covenant House are working together on an agreement for potential data sharing and other service sharing like food service and school safety. 

Seventeen percent of Grand Rapids families live in poverty, 86 percent of GRPS students live in poverty, and an estimated 5,000 individuals in Grand Rapids are homeless. Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids will be the first school in Grand Rapids dedicated to serving this unique population. 

Mayor George Heartwell participated in the news conference to add his support and that of the City of Grand Rapids for this new school and unique partnership between Grand Valley, GRPS, and Covenant House. “I am particularly enthusiastic about this partnership because it is about putting students first, especially those students who are the most at-risk and require extra support to ensure they do not slip through the cracks,” Heartwell said. “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.”

The academy starts with a strong philosophy that puts the needs of the students first. The academy will help motivate students by providing each with an individualized education development plan and a clear path to achieving their educational goals. It will provide a safe and productive learning environment in which students can communicate effectively, think critically, solve problems, and are technologically literate through a variety of activities. The ultimate mission of the academy is to improve the life of prospective students who have previously been school dropouts, have been or currently are homeless, or otherwise at-risk. 

The Board of Trustees also approved authorization of Covenant House Academy Detroit, a group of three charter schools that also serve homeless and at-risk students. Covenant House Academy Detroit has been in operation since 2005 and was previously authorized by Detroit Public Schools. Since 2005, more than 600 students have earned their high school diploma through the academies. Classes are offered year-round and students are able to attend morning or afternoon sessions to make room for work or family obligations. The three schools will serve 823 students in the first year.

“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. 

As charter schools authorized by Grand Valley, Covenant House Academies will have legally defined performance standards that require the schools to demonstrate student growth and retain students in school in order to maintain their charters.

Grand Valley State University authorizes 51 charter school buildings, serving about 25,000 students.

DOWNLOADABLE AUDIO

President Haas said partnerships with GRPS are a priority (audio).

President Haas said GVSU has an obligation to contribute to the community (audio).

Supt. Neal said the partnership with GVSU is important (audio).

Supt. Neal said the students of Covenant House need flexibility to be successful (audio).

Sam Joseph said he's excited for the partnership with GVSU and Covenant House (audio).

Sam Joseph said part of the success of the school is the low student-to-teacher ratio (audio).

Sam Joseph said the need for Covenant House in Grand Rapids is great (audio).