Students in Battle Creek who need help finding the right college, filling out applications and financial aid forms and figuring out how to pay for it have a new place to turn to for help.
The Grand Valley Outreach Center is at 8 Michigan Ave. West in downtown Battle Creek. (Photo: Elena Durnbaugh)
The center was announced in May as part of a partnership between Grand Valley and Battle Creek Public Schools, supported by a $15.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
It's aimed at helping Battle Creek students get into college, being an education and career resource for the community and providing professional support for teachers.
"When we learned about Battle Creek Public Schools and saw that they had some needs for different professional development and working with the students, we thought that was a good fit," said Jean Nagelkerk, vice provost for health at Grand Valley State University and a leader for the outreach center at the university.
Helping students and their families with higher education is the primary focus of the center.
Battle Creek Central graduates enroll in college at slightly lower rates than other students in Michigan. The rate for 2018 grads was 63%; the statewide rate was 68%, according to state data.
They also don't stay in college as long. Among the 2017 Battle Creek
Central graduates who did enroll in college, just 45% were still enrolled after a year. The rate was 58% for students statewide.
The program is "all student centered," said Matthew Bozzo, career navigator for the Grand Valley Outreach Center. "Students, even when they come here to the outreach center, we're not, you know, we're not recruiting for Grand Valley. We're here to support them."
Bozzo said he wants to form connections with students to help them achieve their post-high school goals.
"We need to get out of that mindset that college is just going to a four-year university. College can look like a lot of different things, and that's what I open up to my students. You know, 'Don't be narrow minded. Think about this as an opportunity to expand and grow withing yourself,'" he said. "'The community cares about you and investing in your educational goals.'"
Students will be able to come to the center for college advising, career exploration, financial aid information and help filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The outreach center is especially important in a community like Battle Creek where many students are the first in their family to pursue higher education and can feel intimidated by the process, Bozzo said.
"When a student comes in and they're very overwhelmed, let's break it down," he said. "I want to support you in any way I can."
The center isn't just for high school juniors and seniors, either.
"Anyone can come here," Bozzo said. "We could have middle school students, high school students, potential KCC students who want to transfer, adults who are sick of their job and they want a career change."
The outreach center will provide resources for people no matter where they're at in their educational journey, Battle Creek Public Schools Communications Manager Nathan Hunt said.
"This center is an opportunity for people to come in and just dip their toe in," he said.
"We've got people in this community who have big dreams but feel... maybe that's not for me, that sounds intimidating, but they've got that dream and that goal. So, I think this is a place where they can come in and just say, 'Hey, I've got this dream and this goal. What do I do next?'"
Another area of focus for the center will be supporting Battle Creek Public School teachers through professional development and mentoring. University faculty will provide training for teachers to help them increase their professional expertise by focusing on project-based learning, which is a classroom environment that emphasizes interactive and integrated activities, Nagelkerk said.
Grand Valley will also support teaching in the district by sending some of their education students to do their teaching practicums in Battle Creek. The university will also set up a paraprofessional program pathway and offer advising for paraprofessionals interested in earning their teaching certification.
"It's building a pipeline for Battle Creek Public Schools," Nagelkerk said.
Bozzo said eight student teachers are already in the student-teacher pipeline program.
"They just love it. They are having a great time. They love being here," he said. "It's really exciting to see what our community has to offer for other people."
New teachers in the district will be able to take advantage of an 18-month mentoring program through Grand Valley, which will provide them with support during the early stages of their career. Grand Valley faculty will be available to come into classrooms to offer feedback and suggestions for teachers.
"It's a very hands-on approach to assisting them to be even more successful in their first year, as well as they'll take courses through Grand Valley at the same time," Nagelkerk said.
Grand Valley is also helping to design curriculum and develop summer programs. They'll also be working with Battle Creek Public schools to university courses in health and education for Battle Creek Public School students.
Over the summer, the university offered a camp for middle school students interested in health profession careers. The students spent the four-day camp learning about health professions and got to help at the Battle Creek Veterans Administration for a day.
Eventually, the outreach center plans to host community events, Bozzo said, like a financial aid night or a lecture series with university professors.
"We wanted to be open to the community because we want to be part of the community," Nagelkerk said.
The outreach center will contribute to the overall growth of Battle Creek Public Schools and the wider community, according to Hunt.
"We know that when our schools are strong, our community is strong, and vice versa," he said. "So this outreach center is really just another way to help uplift this community and provide support...It's kind of an all ships rise kind of metaphor. Like I said, as our schools grow, our community grows, our workforce grows. It's all working together, and we want to see this community succeed."
Contact Elena Durnbaugh at (269) 243-5938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.