Finding Community-Wide Benefits with Purposeful Partnerships
Written by Kelly Storms, North Lawrence Learning Center Director / Principal of Gateway Academy
Before the fall of 2019, community partnerships held a different meaning for me. As a classroom teacher and building administrator, I reached out to community agencies, business, and individuals asking for field trip opportunities, guest speakers, or an occasional donation. I remain so grateful to everyone that assisted me during those times. As the NLCS Learning Center Director and Principal of Gateway Academy (NLCS Alternative Program) community partnerships not only have different meaning, but also have expanded my mindset regarding our youth and how they add to a successful community.
My position currently finds me overseeing an Early Childhood Program comprised of both community classrooms as well as developmental preschool, and Gateway Academy, which is an alternate placement program for grades 7-12. I like to say that we are providing the “littles” with a great start, and helping the ”bigs” with a strong finish.
Providing programming for these specific student profiles has captured the attention of our community. The responses have been positive, heart-warming, and at times almost overwhelming (in a very good way). I could fill pages of all the partnership opportunities, successes, and yes challenges. Instead, I would like our Indianagram readers to hear from my community. Perhaps some of these responses will spark new ideas for you, your building, or your district.
Our Early Childhood Center is in its first year. PreK was implemented at different locations in our district previously. However, beginning Fall of 2020 we brought all of our PreK programming under one roof. Included is also the Early Childhood Education program provided by our district Career Center. In doing so, we have continued to develop a wonderful relationship with our local Head Start center. This has provided much knowledge and experience in one location from which all can benefit.
“Hoosier Uplands Head Start is grateful for the partnership that we have with the North Lawrence Learning Center. Having Head Start, the developmental preschool, and community preschool classrooms in the facility where child development is being taught provides so many opportunities for collaboration and learning to take place”. (Head Start Director, Debbie Beeler)
I anticipate many purposeful partnerships in the future with our Early Childhood Center. I am excited to see just what community resources we can provide those students and families. In addition, what community-wide benefits will be realized by providing extensive PreK services.
The collaboration of the community and Gateway Academy is astounding. During the fall of 2019, North Lawrence Community Schools unveiled Gateway Academy. For the purpose of our community, an alternative option was desired to 1) assist high school students behind in credits to being back on track for graduation with their cohort and 2) to provide our community with a structured day(s) option for those students facing out of school suspension or expulsion. We have since developed plans for many student profiles, however our original mission remains and is succeeding. This however would not have been possible without the interest of and support from many non-school agencies. Working closely with so many that have provided opportunities for our Gateway students has been more fulfilling than my words can express. Please review the comments from a few of the many community stakeholders that have contributed and made success possible for so many youth that are benefitting from simply a different approach.
“I have always had a good working relationship with the local school system to help my clients receive an education. Since Gateway Academy has came along, it has been very beneficial to kids who are on probation and are behind in their schoolwork. I have had three students who did not do well in the traditional educational setting attend Gateway and graduate high school. This would not have been possible without Gateway and the hard work of that staff. In addition to helping kids earn credits and achieve a high school diploma, they have opened opportunities to them that they otherwise might not of had. For example, using the public library, helping at local businesses to get experience to see if that was a career they wanted to pursue and donating their time back to the community without being Court ordered. I also had a student that was going through a hard time and was no longer able to attend public school due to a high level of anxiety and depression. Gateway was able to accommodate her education while she was addressing her mental health needs and she was able to transition back to public school”. (Mrs. Katie Messmann, Probation Officer)
“The Gateway Academy has been a tremendous help to the juvenile court system. The program leadership and staff has a true passion for helping children that require extra attention due to circumstances that are sometimes beyond the child’s control. Most of the children that appear before the Court need intensive support in many areas of their life. The Gateway Academy has helped provide the support to ensure the children receive an education and obtain a high school diploma. Earning a high school diploma is absolutely critical in today’s society and a major part of rehabilitation for children in the juvenile court system”. The Gateway Academy has been a tremendous help to the juvenile court system”. (Nathan G. Nikirk, Judge, Lawrence Circuit Court )
“It has been our pleasure to provide $ 14,000 in grants to the Gateway Academy in the past two years. Under Kelly Storms leadership, many students have completed more of their education than would have been possible without this program. It is our intention to continue to support the program and continue to see those benefits”. (David L. Miller, Chief Executive Office, Hoosier Uplands)
“The Bedford Public Library is thrilled to partner with Gateway Academy under the direction of Principal Kelly Storms. We provide programming and volunteer opportunities for Gateway students. Our library customers benefit from Gateway volunteer efforts. Our interaction with these students allows us to see them thrive in a non-traditional school setting that provides individual attention, support, and structure.
Gateway Academy is making a difference in our community. Students are proud to be associated with Gateway. They are kind and supportive of each other. Staff and students celebrate their successes in an environment that encourages students to stay in school and graduate. The remarkable graduate rate is a tribute to the leadership and staff of Gateway Academy”. (Susan Miller, Bedford Public Library Director)
Students of the Gateway Academy are learning to give back to their community and be involved citizens. Through these volunteering opportunities provided by organizations like the Bedford Public Library, students practice soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving, time management, professionalism, and more. Gateway Academy empowers students to be better versions of themselves. We are very proud of this program and these students! (Nathan Watson, Bedford Public Library)
Also providing us with financial support to purchase individual student personal needs is our local Community Foundation. They have purchased senior class sweatshirts, needed clothing or shoes, as well as provided a special large screen laptop for a visually impaired student. Our local food pantry program, LIFE, regularly provides our students with care packages full of personal needs and snack items.
When schools and community agencies collaborate, not only are individual student needs met, but success that will result in generational change and a greater community can be realized. I am honored to serve such a caring community!