Programs with purpose drive choices

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Educators won’t find the perfect recipe for increasing enrollment on their grandmother’s shelf. The logic behind the existing K-12 schools of choice program—implemented in the ’90s—is to give parents the opportunity to explore options and decide which school meets their needs. In many districts, it results in a loss of students to neighboring districts. It’s become competitive.

Rachel Lewis, president of the Lansing Board of Education, said, “I’m sure if any one district figured out the magic equation for what would increase enrollment, I think they’d have to patent it pretty quickly because everybody would want to capitalize on that.”

So, how are educators reacting? The Lansing district has gotten creative, modifying traditional school programming and curricula to appeal to those outside—and within—their district.

Lansing SAVE

One program offered is Lansing SAVE. Unique to the capital city, it is a college savings program for students in the district. With an office that resides in Lansing City Hall, the program works alongside the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union to open an account for each student upon enrollment. Students continue saving money until high school graduation, and are able to use the money for any post-secondary education they wish.

Sydney Naseef

Lansing City Hall, home to the Lansing SAVE organization.

Christopher Francis, financial education coordinator for Lansing SAVE, began working with the program last November. When it came to the issue of cross-district schools of choice, Francis felt that Lansing SAVE would ease parents minds, giving them reason to choose a Lansing school.

“One reason why Lansing SAVE relates to schools of choice is just knowing that if you enroll in the Lansing public schools, an account is going to be opened for you,” said Francis. “I think just knowing that helps a parent and gives them incentive to stay or come to the Lansing school district.”

Francis said Lansing SAVE is a major asset to increasing Lansing schools’ graduation rates, which will ultimately affect parents’ schools of choice decision making.

“Our research says that if a student has a savings account within the range of $1 to $499, kids are three times more likely to enroll in college, and actually are four times more likely to graduate,” said Francis.

Lansing Educational Advancement Foundation

Graduation rates are of the utmost importance to many parents when deciding on a school for their child. Anything that improves Lansing’s graduation rates, Francis said, could ultimately help increase enrollment. For that reason, numerous programs offer scholarships, improving students’ chances for higher education. The Lansing Educational Advancement Foundation, a nonprofit that resides in the Marvin E. Beekman Center, was one of those programs.

Sydney Naseef

The Marvin E. Beekman Center, home to the Lansing Educational Advancement Foundation

Anne Goudie, a teacher who has been working in Lansing district for more than 30 years, got involved with the foundation eight years ago. It was one of the first educational foundations in Michigan. Its role is to help the district supply students with the necessary resources. Goudie said that in the past decade, the need for educational foundations has become increasingly pertinent in all school districts.

“Whether you’re an urban district like Lansing or not, no school districts are fully funded and have everything they need anymore,” said Goudie. “The support of the community is becoming more relevant and needed.”

Goudie says that one of the foundation’s greatest benefits is its scholarship funding, as is the case with partner programs like HOPE Scholarship and Pathway Promise. The inclination to move on to post-secondary education increases when students realize they can avoid the outrageous university costs. Lansing works with many families struggling financially. To make post-secondary education more accessible is a feat, and programs like LEAF will only continue trying to reach more families and students.

“The dynamics have changed and the demographics have changed, but as other nonprofits come and go in the community, the one thing about LEAF is that it’s still here,” said Goudie.

Parents often look at the numbers when choosing a school. Individuals like Francis and Goudie were engaging with students on a personal level, helping to provide them with the means of success.