By Stevie Pipis
Holt Journal Staff Reporter
Kerry Pahl said her daughter attended Holt schools for a year before moving back to the Lansing School District.
“She liked the teachers, and had to work harder because of the higher academic standards. Holt schools have a pretty good reputation,” she said.
The numbers bear that out. The U.S. Census website says that 94.5 percent of the population of Holt ages 25 and over are a graduate of high school. The nationwide average is 86.3 percent.
Holt Superintendent David Hornak credits the city’s location, school staff, and other aspects to the success.
“Holt has a unique location. We can get to resources. We’re near three major highways and five higher education facilities, and intellectual opportunities,” he said.
The intellectual opportunities are Michigan State University’s Wharton Center, the MSU Speaker Series, the Impression 5 science museum, the Michigan Historical Museum, and the State Capital, all in the Greater Lansing area, according to Hornak.
“We have a good supportive community,” said Michael Willard, the principal at Holt High School.
Willard said that the proximity to MSU and Lansing Community College helps to build a college culture.
“The proximity helps, kids start to naturally ask questions about how to get into the schools. It help builds the mentality that you have to graduate to get into them,” he said.
Educated parents make a difference at home, according to both Willard and Hornak.
“Elementary students go through a Big Zoo, Big History, or Big Nature class,” Hornak said.
The “Big” lessons are week-long programs and classes take place off school campus. The zoo lessons take place at Potter Park Zoo, the history at the Michigan Historical Museum, and nature at the Woldumar Nature Center.
“The lessons are project based, and the programs are comprehensive. We want to show the students that everything is more interconnected,” Hornak said.
There are hands on learning experiences at the high school. They just take place on the school property according to Willard.
“Our science teachers go outside and catch and monitor frogs. They’ve been doing it for 10 to 15 years,” he said.
The students are involved with tracking the frogs and other wildlife found on campus and in the retention ponds.
“We also have a science teacher who raises salmon and sturgeon, then releases them. The hands on learning is a plus,” Willard said.
Hornak mentioned the Holt Business Alliance was helpful for the graduation success as well.
The Holt Business Alliance is a board of local business and education leaders who meet monthly. They help set up mentor opportunities and internships for the students.
“As often as we can, we would like to give students real world internships,” Hornak said.
He said that the internships are still growing, but Willard mentioned the student run store at the high school.
“We also did a Shark Tank event where students could pitch ideas to local businesses,” Willard said.
Local businesses offer scholarships, and that partnering with local businesses will help grow more investments according to Willard.
“I have a wonderful staff,” Hornak said.
He said that he is able to go and work out in the field and not worry about work getting done.
One thing that can prevent a high school student from graduating is a skill deficit. Students need to develop skills like critical thinking early, according to Willard.
“High school has very difficult material. We try to intervene early and help students develop the skills needed. When they get older it is hard to build them back up,” he said.
Holt High School offers online help for students who are struggling.
“We have to figure our the best way to meet kids and help them be successful. Our work isn’t done until we hit the 100 percent mark,” Willard said.