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Enrichment program helps fulfill students’ recreation, academic needs

State grant to fund program over five years

Kentwood  — The topic of the week was Food for Thought, and students in the summer ARCH program were pondering healthy and unhealthy eating when it comes to pizza toppings, smoothies, fruit-infused water and other goodies.

For Joviah Ihozo, who’s headed into third grade at Challenger Elementary School, it was all about balance when designing a paper pizza.

“One side is healthy; the other side is unhealthy,” Joviah said, while drawing toppings including one side pepperoni, cheese and the other side: chocolate syrup and doughnuts.

Sixth-grader Mason Aldridge enjoys field trips during ARCH

In a classroom down the hall, students taste-tested lemon, strawberry and cucumber water, declaring lemon water their resounding favorite.

Between 600 and 700 students in Kentwood Public Schools in all grade levels attend ARCH (which stands for Academic enrichment, Recreation and the arts, Community and family services and Healthy relationships). The program offers academic lessons (disguised as fun), field trips, athletics, art and more.

ARCH, a year-round program, is a major part of students’ extracurricular routines. They spend their summer afternoons in the program following the district’s summer school program in the morning. During the school year, students stay after school for two and half hours Monday through Thursday to take part in the blend of academics and recreation opportunities.

The 15-year-old enrichment program operates in all of the district’s K-12 buildings. It will continue for years to come, thanks to $10.5 million in state grants awarded to Kentwood Public Schools and the City of Kentwood to be spread over five years.

ARCH Afterschool Project Director Lori Bramble-Romeo said ARCH has made a positive impact on students’ academic journey. 

“We certainly don’t take all the credit, however data suggests that our program has contributed to improved test scores and overall grades, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our ARCH team,” she said Lori Bramble-Romeo.”

A Community Partnership

The district and city are recipients of three 2024-25 Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center grants from the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential. The grants will be distributed in increments of $2.1 million annually over the next five years. The grants, which are based on availability of federal funds and appropriation in the state budget, go into effect on July 1, 2024 and extend to June 30, 2029. 

ARCH aims to provide students and families with a supportive environment that fosters a sense of community and belonging. The grant is allowing that to continue, Bramble-Romeo said.

“Our partnerships with local organizations enable us to offer resources and services that might not be accessible otherwise, bridging the gap for those who need it most,” she said.

ARCH has historically run in partnership with the City of Kentwood, funded by the 21st Century grant program and district funds. Currently all staff are KPS employees. 

“The grant is very academic based,” said Brittany Didion-Bayne, assistant project director. “We really want to see the growth in our students and help them reach the average reading levels and things like that. We really try to push the academics to help build upon what they do during the school day.” 

ARCH at the secondary level focuses on career pathways and options post high school, she said.

Years of Opportunities

John Wilson, Challenger Elementary site coordinator for ARCH, works on making lessons fun for students. Along with food lessons, he’s led lessons on the historical aspects of pirates, STEAM, music and on countries students are from in the diverse district.

ARCH provides a way for students to keep up academically, continue a routine and continue developing social skills, he said, emphasizing the importance over the past few years for students starting school in a pandemic.

Students are also given a voice in what they learn and do, Didion-Bayne said.

“ARCH does a really good job of instilling leadership opportunities,” she said, noting that they survey students on what they want to learn about and how they want to learn it. Older students are allowed to lead activities.

Some students stay involved all the way through high school and even return to work for ARCH. 

Zabey Burke, a soon to be fifth-grader at Challenger, has attended ARCH since first grade. His brothers also attended ARCH.

“I like the fun stuff, everything we do here, like when we go outside and have fun,” he said.

Read more from Kentwood: 
Amid chronic pain, graduate transformed behavior to reach finish line
As a female Eagle Scout, trailblazer devotes her project to women

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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