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Bright Ideas

The Education Issue

With school just around the corner for many Michigan children, we’re profiling education initiatives across the state and encouraging our Detroit area readers to attend our Innovation in Education panel discussion tonight. 
At Michigan Nightlight, we cover all aspects of education, from programs that ready toddlers and preschoolers for kindergarten and future school success; to leaders who are digging in their heels to reform Michigan education policy; to urban, turnaround schools that are attaining promising results in preparing high school students for college.
While we will continue to regularly cover education at Michigan Nightlight, we’ve put together this special issue to profile three Michigan leaders and their programs – from Detroit to Clare to Grand Rapids. Read about the changes and challenges they face and check out the innovative solutions that are addressing problems head on.
In Clare, Joseph Trommater, project director of S.P.A.R.K.S. (Students Participating in Academics and Recreation for Knowledge and Success), tells us how his program has managed to “do what’s best for kids without having to bow to the red tape…”  With that philosophy, the mid-Michigan program has kept vulnerable kids, who are on the edge of failing or dropping out, in school and working toward life goals. Trommater lives with the threat of federal and state funding cuts, but the students in S.P.A.R.K.S., especially those who have made a complete turnaround or are now at grade level after being a year behind, keep him charging forward.
In Detroit, Dan Varner, CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit, is inspired by a dream that, as a community, we provide all the supports needed so that kids who are working hard can really fulfill their dreams. He shares with us how Excellent Schools Detroit’s School Report Card, which looks at standardized test scores and other school assets (like safety or teacher engagement), gives parents a tool to make an informed decision about what school their child should attend. “That single decision has such an important impact on a child’s life,” says Varner, “and ultimately puts a lot of pressure on the system to improve.”
On the west side of the state, Susan Heartwell, executive director of Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, is making sure that economic conditions don’t deny students the chance to be successful in school. Using private funds to remove barriers facing public schools, the foundation is enhancing schools by stocking school libraries in low-income neighborhoods, providing environmental education, and making sure children have access to musical instruments to learn to play. These basics were once considered the responsibility of the state and individual cities and their taxpayers; the foundation and its donors have decided enough is enough and have stepped up to provide those learning tools to kids.
Complementing our coverage of education this week, Michigan Nightlight is partnering with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Model D, and others to present the Innovation in Education panel discussion tonight (Wednesday, August 29) in Detroit, furthering our conversation about what’s working to create greater success for children in Detroit.
Panelists include Sharnita Johnson, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Michael Brennan, United Way for Southeastern Michigan; Armen Hratchian, Excellent Schools Detroit; Michael Khoury, Cristo Rey High School; Amber Arellano, Education Trust-Midwest; and Stephan Quicksey, senior at Osborn Academy of Mathematics. Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU of Michigan will moderate the program, which takes place at YouthVille, 7375 Woodward Ave. in Detroit's New Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; the program begins at 6 p.m. See you there! 
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