Kent ISD — It was his freshman year when then-Caledonia High School student Mason Stanley learned about Kent ISD’s new middle college program.
“I wanted to try something new, so I decided to enter into the program after my freshman year,” he said.
Fast-forward four years, and Mason was one of 12 students in May to be among the first graduating class of Launch U.
“I would always tell them they were our guinea pigs… because if we had something new or different we wanted to try, we would always have them do it,” said Launch U Coordinator Kristen Doneth. “They have been a great bunch of students, and would always rise to every challenge. It is bittersweet to see them move on.”
Started in fall 2017, Launch U was created in partnership with Kent ISD, Grand Rapids Community College and local businesses to meet the demand for manufacturing jobs and help prepare interested students to fill them. The program is open to all students within Kent ISD’s service area.
Similar to Kent Career Tech Center scheduling, Launch U students split their school days between their home high school and GRCC. After high school, they spend an additional year earning a specialized associate degree.
At first, the program only offered an associate degree in mechanical design. It has expanded to include a general associate degree and this year, a pilot information technology program.
“It sounded intriguing and I had never heard of anything like it before,” said Brianna Little, of Grandville. “I thought it sounded like something nice to do.”
For many of the first crop of graduates, it was a push from a family member to enter in the program. The reason: it would save students around $10,000 in tuition, as they would be listed as a 13th year high-school student, and earn their associate degree tuition-free.
“Well, I have to be honest,” said Matthew Martin, of Lowell. “I actually didn’t decide about the program. My mom found it and pushed me to go do it.”
Jonathan Patterson, from Howard City, also liked the free price tag. Howard City is part of the Tri-County district ,which Kent ISD partners with to offer tech career programs. “I wanted to go into design and it provided me with an avenue to get an associate degree.”
Caledonia’s Marciana Gutierrez said she saw it as a new experience from school that would get her a step ahead as she moved into the workforce.
“I did it because my parents said it would be good for me,” said Nicolas Prater, from Howard City. “It is something I can do that I can fall back on. I am hoping to move more toward environmental work for my career.”
Next Steps Vary
Several graduates said they plan to take a break from school before moving on to their next step.
Martin said he plans to take some time off from school, but does see more ahead. “This program taught me that I enjoy working with computers and I have 3-D design skills,” he said. “I am planning to go into orthopedics, since I wear orthopedics and there is a need for designers in that field.”
Mason said he too plans to continue with his education, but for now is looking for a full-time job, “hopefully one that will help to pay tuition or offer tuition reimbursement.”