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Promise Neighborhoods program led by WMU will infuse Grand Rapids with almost $30 million

Local organizations and educational institutions come together to support Southeast Side students

Grand Rapids – A decade-old program from the U.S. Department of Education that creates “Promise Neighborhoods” – places with great schools and strong supports for students – will infuse Grand Rapids with almost $30 million over the next five years thanks to one of the largest grants in the history of Western Michigan University.

WMU education faculty Patricia Reeves and Jianping Shen were awarded $29.5 million for the Grand Rapids Southeast Promise Neighborhood Project.

They will partner with a variety of Grand Rapids-based organizations to strengthen Grand Rapids Public Schools in a southeast quadrant of the city. The neighborhood being served by the grant includes one high school and a dozen feeder schools. Partners will include GRPS, Baxter Community Center, Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, Family Futures, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Kent ISD and LINC UP. 

“Children are the future of our society,” Shen said in a WMU statement. “Our team looks forward to working with partners in Grand Rapids to improve children’s outcomes there.”

Each year the project will serve about 9,500 children from birth to grade 12 in areas including “school readiness, literacy and math success, transitions to middle and high school, post-secondary preparation, and a variety of student and family health and security targets,” according to the statement. It further aims to “add to the body of evidence of methods that can be used to improve all impoverished neighborhoods as well as their schools, children and students.” 

GRPS officials are thrilled by the grant, the partnerships it will fund and what the programs will mean for district students.

Superintendent Leadriane Roby earned her Ph.D. at WMU and said she is eager to partner with her alma mater and the other partner organizations in improving students’ educational success.

“The Promise Neighborhoods grant will empower all of us to increase capacity for programming that will enhance our ‘cradle-to-career’ solutions,” Roby said in the statement. “We are excited to roll up our sleeves and work collaboratively to improve developmental, educational and social outcomes for the children of Southeast Grand Rapids.”

‘A True Collective Impact’

Bridget Cheney, executive director of early childhood, elementary, and K-8 schools for GRPS, told School News Network that the district has already begun the initial planning for different sorts of programming that will be funded by the grant. Cheney said she and her colleagues are ecstatic about the “true collective impact” the grant will have on Grand Rapids.

“The model being used is designed intentionally to address areas of need,” she said. “And it aims to increase cooperation, collaboration and alignment among and between the project partners. 

“We are proud to be working alongside community partners in this endeavor,” she continued. “That is a tremendous strength of the project. It is a true school and community support network in which children are at the center.”

Since its inception in 2010 the vision of the Promise Neighborhoods project is that “all children and youth growing up in Promise Neighborhoods have access to great schools and strong systems of family and community support that will prepare them to attain an excellent education and successfully transition to college and a career.”

‘We are proud to be working alongside community partners in this endeavor. That is a tremendous strength of the project. It is a true school and community support network in which children are at the center.’ 

— Bridget Cheney, GRPS

John Helmholdt, spokesperson for GRPS, said schools being supported by the grant will include Ottawa Hills High School; Alger Middle School​; Brookside, Campus, Congress, Grand Rapids Montessori Academy, Ken-O-Sha Park, Mulick Park, Ridgemoor Park Montessori Academy and Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy elementary schools; Dickinson Academy; Gerald R. Ford Academic Center; and Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Academy​.

WMU noted that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which has invested in Grand Rapids and built the prototype for the partnership, helped bring the cooperating organizations together for the project.

Yazeed Moore, a W.K. Kellogg Foundation program officer, said simply that the award will “ensure our community partners and stakeholders in the city have the support and resources they need to make sure all children, regardless of zip code and address, have the ability to succeed in school, work and life.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids, Kelloggsville, is lead reporter for Grand Rapids and also is the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children.  Read Phil's full bio

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