Michigan high school may be closing, but its program has had a lasting impact on local schools

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – When Kent Innovation High School opened in 2011, principals made it their business to offer students an increasingly popular teaching model: project-based learning.

The high school, which serves students in the districts of Kent County, took an educational approach where students learned by actively engaging in real-world projects. They have acquired knowledge and skills by working collaboratively to investigate and answer a question, problem or challenge.

In the decade since the school opened, educators across the county have been influenced by its program, implementing similar programs in their own districts.

Today, 10 years after its launch, the school is about to close its doors for good. But the emerging educational strategy first launched at Kent Innovation High has had a lasting impact on schools across the region and will likely stick around long after it closes.

The Grand Rapids School, located at 1655 E Beltline Ave. NE, is expected to close once its tenth grade class graduates. The KISD school board voted in May not to accept ninth grade students this school year as part of a transition plan to gradually close the school over the next three years due to declining enrollment.

RELATED: School board approves closure of Kent County high school

School enrollment has seen a steady decline over the past seven years, currently at 168 students for grades 10-12. While the school was built for 400 students, enrollment numbers have fallen below 300 since the 2014-15 school year.

Part of the reason enrollment has declined at Kent Innovation is that the school’s once unique program has been rolled out in neighboring school districts in recent years. Kent ISD has 20 school districts.

“We had many of our member districts (within KISD) to observe Kent Innovation High to determine how they might apply this type of instruction in their own districts,” said Kent ISD Acting Superintendent Ron Koehler.

“They’ve since incorporated project-based programming as an option for students, perhaps into a traditional math class or a government class. “

Project-based learning has become popular in some of Kent County’s larger school districts, including Forest Hills, Rockford, Grand Rapids, and Caledonia.

One example is the “Gone Boarding” course launched at Forest Hills Eastern High School in 2013, where students gain experience in surfing, long boarding, snowboarding and paddle boarding.

Students develop a number of skills through the boarding project, including designing and building the boards themselves, learning to use the boards, and marketing ideas to executives in the field.

Rockford launched its Creative Teaching and Learning Center in the 2019-2020 school year. The space has been carefully designed to facilitate interactions between student teams to promote more cooperative and collaborative learning.

“The idea is how to involve a student more directly in their educational opportunities and make them more exciting and interesting than, you know, sitting in an office pointing to the teacher, lectures and tests,” Koehler said.

But it’s not a bad thing that Kent Innovation High School is shutting down because other school districts have implemented the same program, Koehler explained. In fact, this is what the principals had set themselves in the first place with its creation.

“It is good news that we have actually accomplished what we planned to do in terms of spreading this kind of learning across the region,” he said.

The school was created largely in response to the standardization of state-wide curricula a decade ago, aimed at preparing students for college. But principals at the time were concerned about “alienating” students who would not be able to learn with this program, Koehler said.

“We were looking for what would engage them in greater rigor and make learning more relevant to them,” he said. “This was an opportunity for the students to come and have their core content at all four levels of high school in a hands-on learning environment where their projects encompassed content expectations. “

The innovative program was a huge success for the students, and principals from across the region and state came to observe the practices of Kent Innovation High, Koehler said.

In 2012, the school was named a National Demonstration Site by California-based New Tech Network, welcome teachers from all over the country to discover the fundamentals of the school.

But Kent Innovation’s success was a double-edged sword. As more schools implemented project-based learning, fewer students came to Kent Innovation.

“Once students had many of these opportunities at their home school, most students were reluctant to leave their school for a smaller program on a remote campus, which required transportation or their own ability to go. and come, ”Koehler said.

Kent ISD administrators ultimately decided to cut back on recruiting efforts, resulting in even fewer new students entering the school.

“We’ve decided to stop, you know, sending information packets to families through ISD and encouraging them to sign up, and instead we’ll work with individual districts on the implementation. program implementation, ”Koehler said.

“So all of these forces have led to such a decline that we can no longer financially support the full program for such a small number of students.”

Kent Innovation has encouraged innovative practices that have been replicated in local school districts.

“We know there are students who benefit from (project-based learning),” Koehler said. “And we wouldn’t have this in our schools today without the experience and knowledge accumulated at (Kent) Innovation High, which made principals and superintendents say, ‘We have to do this here. “”

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