Giving students a place to feel successful
By Kana Coonce
ALGOMA – Fall brings with it a dread for some students: back to school season.
One local charter school aims to make school something to look forward to instead.
Public charter school Algoma Venture Academy (AVA) was dreamt up by former student Abigail Robinson — now the lead advisor and an English Language Arts teacher at AVA — as an alternative for students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting.
“It’s kids of all ranges and ability levels,” said Algoma School District (ASD) Superintendent Jesse Brinkman.
This includes students with learning disabilities or students whose first language is not English.
At AVA, students are assigned an “advisor” — an educator who specializes in a specific field much like a teacher in a traditional setting does.
That advisor then works with their students one-on-one to create a lesson plan tailored to each student’s needs, with projects researched and created by students at their own pace.
This emphasis on projects is what is known as “project-based learning,” a teaching method in which students engage in personally meaningful material in a hands-on way.
Proponents of project-based learning argue that it teaches real-world skills that can only be learned through experience and creates more engaged learners.
“I would say it’s been great to be able to meet the needs of students who sometimes get overlooked, who sometimes fall through the cracks,” said Brinkman, adding that the program “gives students a voice (and) a place where they can belong and feel successful.”
AVA was based on the Live Algoma model, “a local community coalition spanning the Algoma School District footprint” that began in 2011, according to the ASD website.
Brinkman said that for him, this model means ensuring students’ basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, mental and emotional needs — are met.
One program he cited is the district’s Wolf Den Weekend Backpack Program, which “provides nutritious, easy-to-prepare food during the weekend” to students in need, according to the program’s Facebook page.
The program was launched five years ago as part of ASD’s Wolf Den program, in which older students — called “wolves” — mentor younger students — “pups.”
The district also hosts Algoma Wolf Tech, another program created under Live Algoma, designed alongside local manufacturing companies — including MCC Label, Olson Fabrication Inc. and Precision Machine — to teach students technical skills.
Students are assigned to craft things ranging from promotional materials — think water bottles, keychains or anything else you might find a business handing out for free at a job fair — to highly-specific pieces of a machine that might otherwise be too costly or inconvenient to replace. In exchange, the school receives equipment and money to further students’ technical education.
“My vision of leading a school district is one that is inclusive, that provides opportunities to all students, that is a welcoming environment to all students that want to learn,” said Brinkman.
AVA is just one of many ways he believes that vision can become a reality — thanks in part to the passionate educators on staff.
“We have some amazing staff members that believe in our students,” he said.
If the staff biographies on the AVA website are anything to go by, their enthusiasm is contagious.
For more information on AVA, visit https://www.algomaventureacademy.org.