• Click here for a full list of current Partners for Excellence.
By Casey Hans
Ann Arborites have a rich history of community service and much of that has taken place within the walls of The Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Through the district’s 25-year-old partnership program, Partners for Excellence, organizations from local civic groups to large corporations have been encouraged to be part of local schools. Many of these have helped to train students for future careers and vocations.
The program started in February of 1985 with six partnerships. Today, between 30 and 40 formal partnerships exist in any given year at schools around the district.
“Sometimes it starts very small and grows. We encourage that,” said Norma McCuiston, community partnerships and projects coordinator for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. “It’s a real relationship. There’s a level of expertise that sometimes we don’t have. The world is changing so quickly. They are our partners, our resources.”
The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory has a longstanding partnership with the Ann Arbor science program, in place since 1987. Each summer, two Ann Arbor high school students intern at the government agency, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
GLERL scientists serve as mentors “and all of the students are really focused and gung-ho on science,” said Tom Nalepa, a research biologist for the Ann Arbor-based agency, which shares the cost of the interns with the University of Michigan Cooperative Institute of Limnology.
Interested students, generally 15-16 years of age, write essays about topics such as the Great Lakes ecosystems, the environment or biology. Students are screened by high school science teachers, and GLERL generally selects one student intern each from Huron and Pioneer. They then team with scientists who have interesting projects going on that summer.
The partnership is tied in with the district’s science curriculum and is a benefit to both the agency and the students. “It’s been a positive experience both ways. It’s a two-way street,” Nalepa added.
At Thurston Elementary School, fifth-graders are responsible for running a student credit union branch, thanks to a partnership with the MidWest Financial Credit Union. Lisa Rayner, The credit union’s Human Resources Manager, said the five-year-old partnership allows students to learn about running a credit union branch, as well as marketing it to fellow students.
“I think they really enjoy the ability to be part of something like this,” she said.
Some 15-20 students each year participate in the student branch, which is open every other Wednesday during the school’s lunch hour.
Fifth-grade teacher Michael Johnson coordinates the effort each year, fielding applications from interested students. Johnson said he recently opened his own account so he could make his deposits with students. “This is the best partnership ever,” he said. “We are truly grateful and appreciative.”
Veronika, a fifth-grader, is the credit union’s student manager this year and said she likes the responsibility. “I make sure everything is running smoothly,” she said. “I like being the leader. I any problems happen, I know I can control them.”
Jennifer Wood, who does training for the credit union, said she has been impressed with the students. “I give them a theme every time, but let them go wild,” she said. “I’m amazed at their creativity.”
Rayner said students remember their experience even after leaving Thurston. In doing a career day at Clague Middle School, she said several students commented on their experience. “They were still excited about it,” she said.
Other longtime Partners for Excellence include The Ann Arbor Rotary Club (see related story below), AAA Michigan which teams up at Allen Elementary School, The University Musical Society in the district’s elementary schools, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System’s art enrichment programs and various programs with the University of Michigan Health System that include a Youth Mentoring Program for at-risk students at Huron High School and school health centers at Stone High School and Scarlett Middle School. (Click here for a list of current partners.)
McCuiston said the partnerships offer the district much-needed contact with the community and gives employees from area businesses and organizations “good feelings when they know they are involved in the schools.
“It gives them the ability to have an impact on the workforce of tomorrow.”
Rotarians tutor pupils at Angell and Burns Park elementaries
One longstanding partner with the Ann Arbor Public Schools is the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor. For 12 years, Rotarians and their spouses have been visiting Angell Elementary School to tutor students in reading and math. The program was expanded to Burns Park Elementary five years ago.
At Angell, the Buchanans come as a package deal, visiting Natalie DePasquale’s blended first- and second-grade class each week.
Bob Buchanan, a retired pediatrician and corporate executive, takes pride in having helped students excel in math for seven years. “I won’t deviate from the workbook,” he explains. “Once you get into it, it kind of gets into your blood. It’s the satisfaction of the little bit of progress each day and dealing with the adversity too.”
Jeannine Buchanan, a social worker by profession, said she enjoys helping youngsters read. On this day, she is encouraging with a bit of Dr. Seuss. “It’s just a joy to be here. To see some improvement with the kids we’re tutoring,” she said.
Angell Elementary Principal Gary Court said the extra help from Rotary is welcome. “They get personal attention and they look forward to the Rotarians,” he said. “They feel special. These people really care.”
Sandy Burdi, retired from the U-M Athletic Department and married to a Rotarian, has volunteered at Angell for five years. “This is one of the things I wanted to do upon retirement,” she said. “I think it’s a really, really good program. There are a lot of kids here for whom English is a second language and this is good for them.”
DePasquale said she has come to rely upon the tutors who build special one-on-one relationships with her students. She said the partnership works well. “It’s the relationships they build, the confidence,” she said. “They’re fabulous.”
Nick Lacy, a sales agent with Edward Surovell Realtors, oversees the program for the Rotary Club. He said it originated with a program called the Rotary Readers at Angell, in which volunteers read to kindergarteners. It eventually expanded to Burns Park when the Rotarians recruited enough volunteers for both schools.
Today, there are 20 members of the club who visit the two Ann Arbor schools in any given school year. There also are two college-age tutors from the Rotaract Club at the University of Michigan who take part in the volunteer program. Lacy tutors in the fifth grade at Burns Park.
“It has been a treat for us that so many teachers have opened their doors,” said Lacy, a product of The Ann Arbor Public Schools who was formerly a teacher himself. “It’s a lot of fun. And it’s one hour of the week I can look forward to putting everything aside and working with the students.”
Lacy said at some point, he’d like to see the program expand to other schools.
“I think the more community support you have, the better,” he said. “The more people we have involved, the better off we all are. We look at this as an investment in our community.”
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090 ext. 51228.
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