If you ever visit the Sturgis eCademy, you might not recognize it immediately as a high school. Located in Sturgis Central Commons, the eCademy is not your typical school. Where one might expect desks, there are sofas. A table with beverages and snacks sits at one end of the classroom.
Now, you might be wondering what role sofas and snacks play in education. However, if you ask Sturgis eCademy Principal Jeanine Koeneke, it is a more important role than you might think.
Fostering a Sense of Belonging
Koeneke explains that the goal of the eCademy is to provide an alternative learning environment for students who find themselves struggling to succeed in the traditional school setting. At the eCademy, promoting a sense of belonging is key to serving students who, without the added support, may not otherwise make it to graduation.
“Throughout high school, students may have life-altering experiences that, over time, lead them to being behind in credits or overwhelmed with the environment,” says Koeneke. “These students oftentimes feel defeated, depressed, anxious, hopeless and unsure as to why they should continue progressing in their courses towards graduation. That’s where we come in.”
eCademy staff work hard to build positive relationships with students and to connect them to the resources they need to get back on track toward graduation.
Koeneke tells the story of one student who came to the eCademy with just ½ of a high school credit. Within 3 years at the eCademy, the student was not only able to graduate, but through a connection to the Career and Technical Education program, she was able to spend a year developing a passion for welding. By the end of her time with the program, her attendance was almost perfect, and she became Student of the Month.
Grant Dollars at Work
To support more outcomes like these, the Sturgis Area Community Foundation recently awarded a grant to the eCademy. With Community Foundation grant dollars, Koeneke has been able to increase the supports available for the eCademy’s 65 students. Grant dollars have been used to provide transportation to and from school for students in need, as well as provide interpreters at parent meetings for non-English speaking parents. When students struggled this year to stay on task while learning from home, eCademy staff were able to create videos and reach out on weekends.
This “whatever it takes” approach to education, has helped transform the high school experience for eCademy students—and the proof is in student attendance records. Student attendance increased by nearly 200% last school year, an outcome that Koeneke attributes to the school’s increased focus on building authentic relationships with students.
“You can’t get into their mind, until you get into their heart,” she says. “Whether by holding the door or picking up someone’s favorite snack, you can make a difference in a student’s life.”
As a resource and leader in local philanthropy, the Sturgis Area Community Foundation seeks to connect local residents like you to meaningful projects and causes you care about. If you are interested in learning more about the needs of your local community or opportunities for giving through the Community Foundation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (269) 659-8508.