After a semester of learning online – though not much — Maddie Cummings is glad to be back in school.
“I’m a very hands-on person, especially during school. I just learn quicker,” said the senior, taking a break from chatting with friends before school. “It was very odd learning virtual. I wasn’t getting the best grades that I used to get. When I got back in school, it was just a lot better.” Plus, she added, “I get to see faces that I haven’t seen in almost a year.”
Maddie was not one of the 80 or so students that did not return to Union in the fall as expected, part of a major enrollment shortfall for Grand Rapids Public Schools. But Union and GRPS officials hope that the better experience of students like her, now that learning has shifted from all-virtual to hybrid in-person, will prompt some of those missing students to return.
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In fact, Principal Aaron Roussey knows of at least one who did. An 18-year-old senior told him he hadn’t been in school for four months. “He said flat-out, ‘I’m not coming back till you’re in person,’” Roussey said.
Come mid-January, when GRPS school doors opened, that student was indeed back at Union.
All Hands on Deck
Roussey and his staff have been trying to contact missing students since September, when the projected enrollment of 1,080 was barely above 1,000. Working from phone numbers, emails and last known addresses, staffers found many had left because they wanted in-person learning or had moved out of the district. A number of older students had gotten jobs to help their families through the financial crisis.
The biggest chunk came from the school’s Newcomers program for refugees and new immigrants, many of whose families couldn’t get into the U.S. because of border shutdowns, Roussey said.
The good news: Since school doors opened in January about 40 students have enrolled at Union, a “good number” of them students who had left, Roussey said. Those include the 18-year-old who had legally dropped out, and who returned thanks to his personal connections with staff members, Roussey said.
“It’s great to have him back,” Roussey added. “Now we’ve got work to do. He’s got work to do.”