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State Supe, Students Talk College, Careers, Languages

State Superintendent Brian Whiston came to Rockford High School to find out more about its course offerings and what’s on students’ minds. He learned plenty on both counts.

For instance, he learned that Rockford High offers five foreign languages: Chinese, French, Spanish, German and Japanese. He was impressed. “That’s amazing,” he remarked. “Most (schools) can only keep one going.”

Whiston also learned that students are deeply interested in how to earn early college credits – for free – while still in high school. Students in Daniel Modderman’s AP Language and Composition class peppered him with questions about that.

And he learned that the school’s student television program, Beyond the Rock, has won nine state championships for its top-notch quality.

The chief of Michigan’s public schools toured the 1,800-student high school earlier this month, along with Roguewood Elementary and North Rockford Middle School, as part of his continuing visits to about 50 schools each year.

Afterward, Whiston said he was excited to see things like the foreign language class and Roguewood’s Spanish immersion program, the high school’s early college programs with Ferris State and Grand Valley State universities, and a makerspace project where students were designing and working on robotics.

“I think they’re doing a great job here in Rockford,” Whiston said. “The board and community should be very proud.”

State Superintendent Brian Whiston talks to AP Language and Composition students about early college options

Impressed with District Offerings

In the high school’s Chinese II class, Whiston sat in as teacher Jeff Hayes led students in an all-Chinese discussion of a text about how to describe an illness. Hayes related that he once was hospitalized in China with a foot infection, and was the first Westerner doctors had seen.

“It could literally save your life if you know how to talk (in Chinese) about how you’re feeling,” Hayes said. He told Whiston he has about 100 students in four years of Chinese, and Superintendent Mike Shibler pointed out the district hosts Chinese students from Weiming Education Group.

Whiston said it’s extremely rare for a school to offer five languages but that it’s a big plus for students.

“Being able to go into the business world and being able to speak multiple languages opens more doors and opportunities, in terms of career fields and pay and benefits, because of what you can bring to the job,” he said.

He entered into a lively discussion with Modderman’s AP English students about college affordability, and how early college programs and AP classes can give students a head start while saving thousands in tuition costs. Whiston told the class that he and Gov. Rick Snyder want more students to graduate from high school with an associate degree, or a certificate in a specialized job skill such as auto mechanics.

“The goal is to create these four or five pathways (into college and career), then let students and parents decide which works best for them,” he said later.

After the tour, Whiston praised local voters for approving an enhancement millage for all students in Kent ISD’s 20 districts. It speaks volumes that voters statewide have approved such millages as well as bond issues and sinking funds, he said.

“This is the frustrating thing in Lansing, where they say they’re pushing for tax cuts and not giving more money to education,” Whiston said. “Yet the voters keep saying ‘no, we want more money for education.’ I think it shows the public’s trust and interest in wanting to have a top-notch education system.”

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About Superintendent Brian Whiston

Weiming Education Group

English teacher Daniel Modderman and students in his AP Language and Composition class held an extended discussion with Whiston

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Charles Honey
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 or email Charles.

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