State of Education

High quality education has become the norm for local public school systems.

But, what exactly comprises those educational systems? And what trends are occurring at each level of local education? Those were questions answered recently at the Midland Country Club as the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its quarterly Issues and Answers forum.

The event brought together five local educators to share on the “State of Education.”

Pre-school years

Calling the preschool years, “crucial in childhood development,” Chippewa Nature Preschool Director Madison Powell challenged attendees to reminisce back to their own childhoods and think about enjoyable activities along with who or what impacted their early years.

“Whether you remember them or not, those early experiences played a large role in who you are today,” Powell said.

Over the last few decades preschool has evolved into a time of increased pressure to teach the academic skills. Powell quoted psychologist Peter Gray who has said that, “childhood has changed from a time of freedom to a time of resume building.”

However, Powell also shared that preschool children need unstructured playtime.

“Children are so scheduled and monitored that they don’t have time to wonder, explore and think critically on their own without interruption,” Powell said.

She also cited studies have shown that true indicators for success do not come in the form of ABCs or 123s.

“For the general population of children, the more accurate gauges of future success include positive social relationships, mental health skills, the ability to identify and navigate situations that arise,” she said. “These are readily available in the context of nature.”


Midland Public School Superintendent Michael Sharrow shared about gap students, those who are at the bottom 30 percent of the student population. The task is to bridge the gap between those students and the top 30 percent of the students.

Over the last decade, MPS has seen an increase of at-risk students from 7 percent to 27 percent.

“Several factors determine at-risk, but primarily economics. Someday we are going to have to change that real quick, because economics is the No. 1 indicator of educational success today,” Sharrow said.

MPS is responding from a challenge from the Michigan superintendent’s office to engage the bottom 30 percent.

“He said that project-based learning fits very well into that and I agree with him. Central Park Elementary is an example of that — learning by doing, learning by making mistakes and hands on learning,” Sharrow said.

The opening of Central Park this fall has been a key component to the MPS STEM Strategic Plan. Next year the other five elementary schools will incorporate some of the same learning spaces that have been built into Central Park.

To also help close that gap, MPS has initiated various programs, including the PATHS Academy (Personalized Academics Through High School). The program allows students to explore the 42 Career and Technical Education programs available to MPS students.

This year’s legislative session has seen a higher priority on mental health. The issue is also become more of a concern at the K-12 level.

MPS has launched the pilot program, MindUP Curriculum, at the third-grade level. MindUP features 15 lessons that help improve behavior and learning for all students.

“It’s based on how to stay mentally healthy. How do you deal with stress?” Sharrow stated. “We have partnered with many of our private and governmental health agencies to implement mental health into our schools. We have a lot of educational knowledge, but we don’t have a lot of knowledge in mental health.”

Skilled trades

As Midland Public Schools transforms a portion of its curriculum to STEM, the Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA) is attempting to transform attitudes regarding skilled trades.

“Next time you walk into a room, or a stadium, look up. Do you want someone who doesn’t know the difference between 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch to build it? We need to appreciate the skilled sets that have been used to build that,” GMCA CEO Jimmy Greene said.

Greene praised the Chamber of Commerce for acknowledging skilled trades at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s an interesting dynamic to be included in education finally. And I would applaud the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce and our community for recognizing skilled trades in an education forum. That is an important, important move that hasn’t happened in a lot of years,” Greene said.

Skilled trades stigmas have long been held that it’s only for those students with no other options.

“We don’t want the fallouts. We want to work hand-in-hand with school districts with the community schools to make sure we get the best of the best,” Greene said. “We work with public schools all over the state and Midland Public Schools has been one of our biggest supporters.”

Graduation from GMCA is not an easy task. During the four-year program, students undertake 568 hours of book learning followed by 8,000 hours of hands-on training without getting paid.

“So when they come out of there, these aren’t just skilled trades people. These are skilled, skilled trades people. It’s one of the reasons why in our academy we don’t call it skilled trade training, or apprenticeship or journeyman status, we call it the ‘other four-year degree,'” Greene said.

As Midland Public School incorporates STEM into its curriculum, the various components of the acronym have been a mainstay in skilled trades.

“The people in skilled trades are thrilled about (STEM) because now you know what we do everyday, all day. It is impossible to teach the skilled trades without using the concepts of science, technology, engineering and math. Sooner or later the education will catch up with us and create the word STEAM, because we always start with the “A,” the architectural side,” Greene said.

Higher education

Central Michigan University Academic Program Director Kaleb Patrick stated that CMU is moving toward more of a collaborative, learning-based approach.

Called “Flipped Classroom,” students engage in videos, look in workbooks and explore the internet outside the classroom. Then they convene in the classroom.

“We are focusing not on an individual standing on the stage and telling you all that he knows,” Patrick said. “But we’re allowing students to explore the content in a separate environment and then coming into the classroom where we can do project-based or problem-based education.”

To support the Flipped Classroom approach, Patrick challenged attendees to:

• Attend job fairs and invite institutions of higher learning when hosting a job fair.

• Be aware of what internships are available.

• Be willing to serve on steering committees. “More and more we are creating steering groups of professionals that work in a particular environment. Those help us understand what is needed, so we can include that in curriculum and programming.”

Adult learners

As director of career advancement for Northwood University’s DeVos Graduate School, Beth Bryce interacts with adult learners, many who have returned to school later in life.

Trends among adult learners include:

1. Online education

2. Economic conditions

3. Early retirement

4. New Gig Economy

Calling it the New American Dream, Bryce stated that 73 million, or 43 percent of the workforce can be classified as the New Gig Economy. That 43 percent is composed of free lancers, contract laborers and self-employed entrepreneurs that enjoy the freedom, flexibility and autonomy of the New Gig.