Valedictorian Tyreece Talbert says there is a sense of accomplishment and pride felt by Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy (UPrep) seniors, as the first class to graduate Saturday, June 7, from the innovative, college prep program.
Launched in 2008, UPrep is a partnership between Grand Rapids Public Schools and business leaders.
“We are excited about being the class that started it all and leaving behind that legacy,’’ said Talbert, who said he believes the Class of 2014 – 29 seniors – have set the bar high.
Three local schools are graduating their first classes this week. Seniors from West Michigan Aviation Academy, an aviation and engineering charter high school, graduate on Thursday and the Zeeland-based online K-12 charter, iCademy Global, graduation is on Friday.
Last December, Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids, a charter high school for at-risk and homeless youth, graduated its first class of eight and is slated to graduate more than 15 on June 18. The school, authorized by Grand Valley State University, opened in July 2013.
On Saturday, UPrep Principal Daniel Williams said there will be incredible excitement at Sunshine Community Church about what’s coming next for their graduates and just a little sadness because the school is losing part of their family.
He said their students are doing “in-depth and amazing’’ things to prepare for a two- or four-year postsecondary experience, including dual enrollment and internships.
Talbert said he remembers getting a letter in the mail about UPrep opening and the opportunities.
“I came to UPrep as a seventh grader hoping to find my career path, and now I have,” said Talbert, 18, who will study 3D Animation and Game Design at Ferris State University. “UPrep is a hands-on school with a supportive learning environment that is taught more like college.”
The school, which now serves 390 students in grades 6 through 12, opened last year at 512 S. Division Ave. SE, after $9.2 million was raised in a capital campaign.
The West Michigan Aviation Academy, located on the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, just held a fundraising gala in May to continue to offer greater opportunities to its students. Founder and Amway heir Dick DeVos recently sat down with the 73 graduates for exit interviews to talk about how the school could better serve future graduates.
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Senior Bailey Wessel, 18, said she has thrived in the academy’s learning environment because of the focus on building a rapport with the students. She said she didn’t come to the school with a passion for aviation, rather in search of a better academic experience.
“We have a really exceptional student body because character-building is as equally important as academic achievement,” she said. “The faculty is approachable and helpful and want to build relationships with students.”
Wessel, a top 10 student, is headed to Central Michigan University. While she has an interest in engineering, she is still deciding on a major.
Founded in 2010 with 80 students, the tuition-free school is currently educating over 400 students from seven counties in grades 9 through 12 and growing with a healthy waiting list. The school is authorized by Bay Mills Community College.
Pat Cwayna, WMAA’s CEO, said the the growth has come with increased name recognition because of its focus on aviation and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). He said the graduates all have post-secondary or military plans.
“We’ve been able to create a different experience and an awesome learning environment for kids because of the vision of Dick DeVos,” he said.
Holly Cravino, learning coach at iCademy Global, said a different experience is what students get when enrolled in their online program. It allows them the flexibility to learn from their homes, at their local coffee shop, in another country or somewhere else of their choosing in addition to classroom settings.
The school, authorized by Lake Superior State University, opened last year and will graduate seven students from the Ottawa County area. It is one of three new online charter schools approved by the state and had 210 students enrolled this winter, according to the state.
“One of our graduates was able to volunteer to teach in Costa Rica for six weeks,” said Cravino, who said that would not be possible in most traditional school settings. “She taught in the morning and did her school work in the afternoon and evening. This is a very dynamic group of kids.”
- Photo courtesy of MLive