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Lighthouse Graduation 2011 - Grand Rapids Press


Congratulations to the 20 students who graduated from Lighthouse Academy last may. Special thanks to the GR Press for covering the Lighthouse Academy Graduation ceremony and sharing the story of a few of our students. To view this article, please read below or click the link to see it on mlive!

Graduates say charter school helped them turn their lives around after getting expelled elsewhere

Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011, 10:33 AM
By Matt Vande Bunte | The Grand Rapids Press The Grand Rapids Press

KENTWOOD - Four years ago, when he got expelled from Kelloggsville Public Schools for setting a fire with a friend’s lighter, Dan Miller never thought he’d get a diploma.

Now, he’s part of the largest-ever graduating class of 19 at Lighthouse Academy, a charter school that caters to students kicked out of other school districts.

"I didn’t think I was going to get this far. I got proven wrong,” said Miller, 18. “Just being here (at Lighthouse), it built my confidence up. Everybody, they say ‘You can do it.’

“That (arson) was a big mistake and a good one at the same time.”

With help from donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lighthouse in 2005 opened with seven expelled students at a building near Alger Street SE and Eastern Avenue in Grand Rapids. The academy in 2008 was chartered by Ferris State University and moved to 3330 36th St. SE on the campus of Wedgwood Christian Services.

Lighthouse now has about 200 “at-risk” students who have been expelled from other schools or referred by juvenile court. Most are in middle and high school, and about 75 live in a residential treatment program at Wedgwood.

Lighthouse’s 43 staffers earn “significantly lower salaries” than peers at traditional public schools, Principal Heidi Cate said.

On top of public money the charter school gets as one of the state’s “strict-discipline” academies, Wedgwood raises funds to provide “value-added” services including therapy, substance abuse prevention counseling and job-skills training, she said.

The smaller classes and holistic approach have proven successful for teens like Miller, who now plans to study aviation maintenance at a technical school near Detroit.

Most graduates plan to attend community colleges or 4-year schools like Ferris State, Central Michigan and Indiana Wesleyan. Their career aspirations are diverse: architecture, automotive mechanics, business, cosmetology, counseling, culinary arts, journalism, military, music, nursing, therapeutic recreation.

Grace Martin wants to work in a doctor’s office and will pursue training as a medical assistant. Two years ago, the young mother with an “off the wall” temper got kicked out of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Creston High.

"I was crying just thinking about (graduation),” said Grace, 17, who has a 2-year-old daughter and works at Checkers. “A lot of people doubted me because I had a baby and stuff. I doubted myself.

"Some of my friends already told me I inspire them. They say ‘If you can do it with a baby and a job, I know I can do it.’”

Lighthouse graduated two seniors in 2009 and 15 last spring, Cate said. This year’s graduates have built upon the academy’s mission to create a culture of post-high school ambition, she said.

“It speaks volumes to our kids who are not yet graduating,” Cate said. “For them to imagine themselves in a college setting and being productive citizens is something we work really hard on. They believe that it can happen.

"Our teachers deserve all sorts of praise. They have a tenacious hope for the kids.”

Wedgwood this fall plans to open a second school in the former St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, 240 Brown St. SE. The K-12 Hope Academy, also chartered by Ferris State, can enroll at-risk students as well youth who have not been in trouble.

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