Through a unique community outreach program, Ferry Elementary and Voyager School in Grand Haven formed partnerships with local businesses to enhance student learning and give back to the community. 

Ferry and Voyager schools received a High Impact Leadership (HIL) Project grant which aims to empower school leaders and develop confident young readers in order to achieve literacy success. The grant provided training for staff to help them change the narrative about how Ferry and Voyager students engage and interact with the community, and to bring purpose to their learning both inside and outside the school building.

“This grant allows us to expose students to career opportunities in their community through real-world learning in local businesses,” Andrew Ratke, Design Thinking Coordinator for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, says. “The businesses were more than willing to open their doors to the students and many of the business representatives came into the classroom as well.” Andrew added some of the representatives were Ferry and Voyager alums making the interaction that much more special. 

A robust program such as this requires local and regional partnerships and a great deal of collaboration. District staff worked with Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University’s MiSTEM Network, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Districts’ General Education Leadership Network, the Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, and a number of local businesses to provide opportunities for students and staff at every grade level within the two school programs.

Ferry and Voyager students combined their in-class learning with outings to businesses and put their learning into action. 

One group of students visited City Farmer Lawn & Landscape to learn about native plants that support growth and butterfly survival. This off-site learning was coupled with classroom learning on invasive species and their impact on local parks. From there, students went to a local park to remove invasive species and replant native plants that are well suited for the ecosystem. 

“Anytime I can get kids involved with plants or nature or pollinators, I’m all for it,” Lori Poel, Store Manager and Landscape Designer for City Farmer, says.

Student Dezmond said it was fun working on the project because they are trying to help nature. Fellow student Aubrey concisely explained, “If we don’t chop down the (invasive) honeysuckle the birds will not have any food to eat.” 

“Getting kids outside the classroom positively impacts their learning, it gets them engaged and encapsulates all the learning styles,” says Ferry and Voyager Principal Shelly Hammond. “We have such great business partners and dedicated teachers. And the students love it! They are more than willing to help carry microscopes to the water treatment plant, for example, to see the microorganisms they just learned about up close.”

Shelley added this was a new experience for everyone, and it was a huge success.
“I’m so thankful for these business and community partners and the HIL project for helping us make this happen for our students. They benefitted beyond our dreams and we’re excited to continue learning and growing,” Shelly says. 

Other local business partners included The Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, City of Grand Haven, Grand Haven Department of Public Works, Grand Haven/Spring Lake Sewer Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant, Harbor Transit, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Love in Action of the Tri-Cities.


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