Children who were in kindergarten then will enter the middle school this year. Kids who were in seventh grade are graduating from the high school. And the middle school principal then is now the head football coach at Hope College. That’s how long it’s been since a 2015 grant from the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation helped create the Innovation Lab at East Grand Rapids Middle School.
“It’s crazy that 2015 was our first grant of many to get this project off the ground,” says Innovation Lab teacher Kevin Vance. “It seems like it was only yesterday but also feels so long ago at the same time. We are so thankful for the continued support of the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation. We would not be what we are without it!”
The Innovation Lab is just one example of Foundation grants that will continue to benefit our students this year. This school year, thanks to our donors the Foundation will contribute nearly $900,000 to our schools. Because of COVID-19, however, some of that money will go to protecting the health of our students and the rest will fund critical programs and supports in our classrooms. No new enhancement grants will be approved this year.
That’s why it’s so important that programs like the Innovation Lab thrive for multiple years. The program had a humble beginning, as Middle School Principal Peter Stuursma, Vance and Middle School Art Teacher Holly Lampen applied for a grant for $2,819.05 to get the project started. Several more grants since then have helped build the wildly successful program.
“Over the years, we have expanded our program from an 8th grade only offering to providing multiple offerings of classes in all grade levels,” Vance says. “Last year we had our first group of students graduate from the Middle School who had the option to take it at all 3 grade levels. A few students I had were able to take the class in some form or another eight times in their Middle School Career. As the program has grown we have evolved by offering more targeted classes (Engineering, Coding, Robotics) and have expanded the activities and resources that we offer to the students. As you can imagine, the technologies that we use rapidly change so having a grant that has allowed us to have money to spend over time has greatly enhanced our possibilities when it comes to purchasing materials that can be used in the class.”
Vance says the Innovation Lab continues to expand its offerings to students. “All sixth grade students will take at least one trimester of Innovation Lab,” he says. “Over one hundred of them will then take it a second time in the third trimester. We’ll have five classes in seventh grade and six classes in eighth grade. Altogether, across the three grades, more than five hundred students will take Innovation Lab classes.”