Jose Ruelas, 17, says Innovation Central offers the perfect mix of hands-on experience and challenging academics. He expects to head to college after graduation

New Innovation Central High Mixes Connections with Business, Community and Education

by Nardy Baeza Bickel  

Grand Rapids Innovation Central Senior Dustin Suchomski has only been enrolled in the school’s Academy of Design and Construction for a couple months, but he’s already made connections he hopes will come handy in his professional life.

He counts the chairman of an area construction company as his mentor, has met several companies’ CEOs and already attended an industry-specific award ceremony where his school was recognized for its innovative approach.

“I want to be an engineer and I figured this would be a good program to be in. They have good field trips and we go to a lot of (activities) that can open doors – opportunities for mentorships and things like that,” said Suchomski, 17, who plans to attend college and become an engineer after graduation.Ayla Gutierrez, 16, an 11th grader at Innovation Central, is focusing on business and entrepreneurship studies. She hopes to use that knowledge to build her own animal hospital after becoming a veterinarian

Suchomski is one of 775 students enrolled at Innovation Central High School housed at former Central High School. Under the transformation plan approved by the GRPS board last December, the building combines four Centers of Innovation all under one roof:

  • the Academy of Design and Construction
  • the Academy of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship
  • the Academy of Health, Sciences and Technology
  • the Academy of Modern Engineering (formerly known as GRAPCEP)

Principal Mark Frost said everyone at the school, students, parents and teachers, have bought into the program’s high academic and behavior standards. And while there were initial concerns about bringing students from different buildings into one, those concerns have not materialized, he added.

“It’s working out great,” he said. “We have a great atmosphere here and we’re functioning on a much higher level already.”

Close Community Ties

Gideon Sanders, director for Innovative Strategies at GRPS, said developing close relationships with the community is key for the program’s success. Students are provided with opportunities to participate in community events and Grand Rapids Innovation Central Senior Diego Garcia, who's enrolled in the Engineering and Biomedical School, wants to be a dentist after graduationindustry-specific activities.  On the last Friday of the month, a speaker visits to discuss experiences with students.

Students are invited to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, have attended LinkedIn dinners and the Academy of Design and Construction recently attended the Michigan Contractor Awards ceremony at Frederik Meijer Gardens.

“The idea is to expose students to the community at large. We want them to see all perspectives,” Sanders said. “It’s about allowing them to make choices.  In order to do that, they need to have a broad range of experiences – not just here in the school and within these four walls, with this one teacher. School is not about that anymore. Education is not about that anymore. We really need to prepare them so they feel comfortable in a variety of settings, with a variety of people that they’re going to meet.”

For Diego Garcia, the program is working out just fine. Garcia plans to become a dentist and is currently enrolled in a paramedics’ class offered at the school.  “I feel like having this experience is going to have a benefit to me in the future, because I can become a licensed EMT and I can take this into other classes that I might be taking in college.  

“They’re preparing you for the work environment outside of high school.  I want to seek a career in the medical field and by coming here, I’ll be more likely to be prepared and have a very strong background on science.”Grand Rapids Innovation Central Senior Dustin Suchomski wants to be an engineer. He's enrolled in the Academy for Design and Construction where he's getting hands-on experience

Agreeing was Ayla Gutierrez, 16, 11th grade, who is enrolled in the business entrepreneurship program at the school. She plans to become a veterinarian and open her own animal hospital/rescue shelter. And while she was a bit skeptical at the beginning, she said she’s really glad she signed up for the program. “I actually like it a lot,” she said.

Suchomski, the construction student, was busy last week working on the roof of a Habitat of Humanity house.  “It’s basically like regular school, but with electives that will help you out. It really gets you prepared with hands-on stuff,” he said. “And the teacher doesn’t baby us. If you do something wrong, you have to re-do it.”

Jose Ruelas, 17, also a senior at the school, explained, “You get hands-on experience and get to do construction before you graduate.  I think that’s cool,” Ruelas said. “It’s versatile, because they let you go out to the site and work and you still get your work done in the classroom.”

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Submitted on: November 1st 2013

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