Grateful Grads Get Jump on College, Cut Costs

On their way to earning tuition-free associate degrees at Davenport University, 14 Kenowa Hills High School students found an unexpected source of support: each other.

The first class to graduate from the Kenowa/Davenport Middle College program – and the first middle-college graduates from Kent ISD schools — received their diplomas in ceremonies Sunday, April 26 at Van Andel Arena. Students completed both their high school and university requirements over the past three years, with the school district picking up their college tuition.

That added up to a cumulative savings of $512,126 for the students, Kenowa officials said. That was a huge plus, students said, but so was having each other to rely on after beginning their college careers as high school juniors. Starting out mostly as strangers, they became close friends who studied together and shared dinner after class.

THE FIRST FIFTEEN

Members of the first graduating class of Kenowa Hills High School / Davenport University Middle College:

Sarah Carpenter, Shiane Crow, Alexis Denegate, Baili Dunneback, Lauryn Grep, Stephanie Hamblin, Alexis Kole, Austin Lipsey, Abby Meyers, Heather Miller, Allison Polkowski, Joshua Simon, Erika Simonds, Elijah Stinson and Devon Warner

— Source: Kenowa Hills High School

“Now it’s like we’re all one person,” Sarah Carpenter said one afternoon in the student center cafe. “We’re ridiculously close,” Abby Meyers added with a laugh.

So close, in fact, that some of them got more involved in high school activities at the encouragement of the others. Said Meyers, “I did not go to any school functions whatsoever until I met these people.” As it was, she went to the winter “swirl” dance, where fellow Middle College grad Allison Polkowski was crowned queen.

“This has made me feel more secure about them, myself and my future.” – Abby Meyers

Forming that close-knit cohort, plus being strongly motivated, proved to be two reasons for the program’s success, said Jodi Hicks, Davenport’s director of first-year experience.

“They come at it with a different mindset, because they’re so eager to be successful,” said Hicks, a Kenowa Hills graduate and the class’ first instructor. “They were very eager to learn.”

More Time, Less Pressure to Plan for Future  

A total of 15 students – one will finish Davenport’s program this summer – began Middle College in fall 2012. (Two more classes, totaling 32 students, have since enrolled, and applications for next fall are due May 5.) They took increasing numbers of Davenport courses each year, until this year taking just one high school class while attending Davenport’s Caledonia Township campus.

The schedule required an extra year of high school, but students participated in commencement last year with the rest of their senior classmates. This year they were 13th-year seniors who occasionally came back to Kenowa for class, while pursuing degrees in business administration, information technology or nursing.

Besides getting an early jump on college, the program enabled them to figure out their career interests without the financial pressure of tuition or taking out loans, students said.

Middle college brought them closer, say (from front to back) Joshua Simon, Elijah Stinson, Alexis Kole, Sarah Carpenter, Abby Meyers and Allison Polkowski

“I knew my parents weren’t going to be able to pay for my education at all,” said Abby Meyers, one of five siblings. “This has made me feel more secure about them, myself and my future. I don’t have to worry about the burden I’m putting on them.”

Joshua Simon saw it as more time to decide on a major before going on to a four-year university. He took business classes but will pursue social studies and English.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Simon, who plans to attend Central Michigan or Michigan State universities. “With this extra year, I was able to think about what I want to do with my future.”

Freedom to Explore Options

Alexis Kole also appreciated the flexibility for future planning. She figures her associate’s in business administration provides a solid backup as she goes on to study digital media at Kendall College of Art and Design.

“To have a business degree makes me feel a lot more secure, especially if I want to do something with my art,” Kole said.

Allison Polkowski switched from business to medicine after doing 180 hours of job shadowing at the Spectrum Health orthopedics unit. The experience opened her eyes to career possibilities, including being a physician’s assistant or radiation therapist. “It’s been a tremendous help,” she said.

Elijah Stinson aims for a career in musical theater, but said his Davenport classes formed a foundation for a possible minor in marketing. Being with fellow Kenowa students helped greatly with the transition to college, he added.

Sarah Carpenter, left, says she enjoyed studying and socializing with fellow Kenowa Hills students like Alexis Kole (photo courtesy of Davenport University)

“If I didn’t’ have my friends here, I probably wouldn’t have done as well as I did,” said Stinson, who was Kenowa’s Homecoming king last fall. “I knew I wasn’t by myself.”

Going to college seemed to enhance their final years in high school, some students said.

“I love going back there. There’s juniors, and then there’s me as a super-senior,” said Joshua Simon, who took French at Kenowa this year. “They’ve been really good about it. They’re all really cool and accepting.”

CONNECT

Davenport University

Kenowa Hills Middle College program

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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