Thursday, June 14, 2007
John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News
Howell's new Parker High School, which opens this fall, is attached to its football stadium and bleachers.
Model school prepares for future
Howell's new $72 million campus is geared toward offering students real-world business training, experience.
Valerie Olander / The Detroit News
School is out for Howell High School's 1,900 students who left behind a traditional school with a conventional school day.
Next fall, they will step into the new Parker High School, which Michigan educational leaders are already hailing as a statewide model for preparing students for college and their future.
The $72 million campus, south of Howell in Livingston County, will have a privately owned credit union and cashless convenience store, both geared toward offering students real-world business training and experience. Lansing Community College will have its own eight-classroom wing and students will be able to choose from more flexible scheduling options, with classes being offered for longer time periods on alternate days, evenings, weekends and even summer.
"This is an incubator for us to watch as all these ideas come together, said State Superintendent Michael Flanagan. "We're going to be watching this closely."
He expects the business partnerships to quantify the new rigorous graduation requirements going into effect for the Class of 2011, the freshman class.
Although partnerships are nothing new to the high school experience, Howell has taken it a step further to incorporate it into the classroom.
For example, Sterling Services' convenience store is linked to the marketing classroom where students will handle inventory and learn how to conduct sales research, and cause and effect marketing.
"Even the TV-video production students will be producing ads that will be shown within school. They'll be creating a product," said Principal Bill Smith. "About 60 kids will benefit from the store in its virtual environment and it will be merged with accounting classes. They'll look at supply and demand in economy classes. It's basically a learning lab."
The reinvention of the high school experience has coincided with Michigan's tougher high school standards designed to better prepare students for college and the working world. "This is (the) first time (in Michigan) for merging the building structure and curriculum to provide an avenue for these partnerships," Smith said. The college wing expands dual enrollment options for students making it available to all teens, not just for gifted students in accelerated programs. It also allows students to "double dip" on math and science credits needed for high school graduation, by taking community college classes and getting credits toward an associate degree or transferable credits to any state college, Flanagan said.
"My dream has been that all kids can get a high school diploma and a community college (associate) degree in five years," he said.
Smith said Parker's curriculum is set up to accomplish just that. A student who takes full advantage of what is being offered could essentially graduate with a high school diploma in one hand, an associate's degree in the other with practical business and leadership skills to put on a resume, he said.
From the outside, Parker High School looks like most learning institutions. Inside, it's open and airy with transom lighting and a multitude of large pane energy-efficient windows to let in the natural light. Motion sensors flip on classroom fluorescents.
Howell Superintendent Chuck Breiner, who was been invited to numerous universities, including Harvard University to speak about Parker's mission, said the partnerships are more about student opportunities, rather than financial gain in the face of a school funding crisis. LCC will be paying about $68,000 annually in its lease agreement and contributing another $5,000 in reimbursements for students who succeed in course work. LOC Federal Credit Union, which has 500-square-feet of space, will pay $300 per month.
Howell students have been sold on the educational philosophy and the flex scheduling options at Parker, however, one social aspect has been a constant concern.
"I'm taking the flex scheduling in the a.m. so I can work. The only thing I don't like about it is that I'm afraid I won't see my friends," said Dani Rencsak, who will be a senior this fall.
The flex scheduling is partly needed to accommodate the 1,900 students in the district's second high school, built for 1,350, while the existing Howell High is closed 15 months for renovations.However, when both schools are fully operational, flex scheduling will remain, Breiner said.
While LCC is the first known college to be built as part of a high school, according to Breiner and Flanagan, the same is true for LOC Federal Credit Union. "School branches" have been set up at other school districts. Typically, the banks operate in cafeterias one day a week to promote savings habits for youngsters, said Debbie Mashinske, LOC's vice president of marketing.
"We'll have some internships available (at Parker) and right now we're working with teachers to come up with assignments that can be used in other classes," she said.
Flanagan said programs that allow hands-on experiences make all the difference in learning.
"Study after study shows when kids don't learn it's because they don't see the relevance of what they're doing," he said. "It's the relevance piece that kids will get from this."