Under the Roof of Hope0
The former PNC bank building that stands on the corner of Crosstown Parkway and Park now houses a high school of hope for young people. Students at Kalamazoo Covenant Academy (KCA) are high school dropouts and homeless youth who have been given another opportunity to complete the 18 credits required by the State of Michigan to earn a high school diploma.
Operated by the Covenant Academies Foundation (CAF), a non-profit 501c3 organization whose mission is to prevent youth incarceration and youth homelessness, Kalamazoo Covenant Academy opened earlier this year and has enrolled more than 150 students. Of these students, all have faced extreme barriers in life, such as teen pregnancy/parenting, homelessness, abuse, neglect, incarceration, insufficient family support and extreme poverty, resulting in dropping out of school at some point.
"These kids are in crisis," Sam Joseph, Founder and Board Chair of CAF, observes. "We accept them as they come to us, seek to understand their challenges and help to remove the barriers, all while offering each student unconditional love and absolute respect."
Authorized by Grand Valley State University, KCA is a tuition-free, non-profit, public alternative high school with a local board of directors. The school is open year-round, enrolls new students every day, and serves students between the ages of 16-22.
The journey that led each of the students to KCA is as unique as their individual needs. Life situations, such as family breakups, poverty, illness, housing evictions and abuse, impact these students adversely. One might have gotten as far as 11th grade before dropping out due to pregnancy, another may only be at a 4th-grade reading level and struggled academically. Others are trying to work to support their families or are living at local missions with very little.
"Without a high school diploma, these kids will have a life-long struggle," shares Joseph.
"Many of these students dropped out and were on the street, unable to move forward," Joseph continues, "but they have found our school as a haven towards a better future, which every child wants to have."
Kalamazoo Covenant Academy does its best to remove every barrier that stands in the way of students making progress. If teen parenting is a barrier, students can bring their babies to school. A quick walk down the hall and you will observe teachers helping to care for infants while offering one-on-one instruction to students.
The students at KCA are not grouped by grade level, but instead are in classes based on the credits they need and take only one class at a time. Each student has an individual educational development plan and works with their teachers to complete their goals at their own pace. The school hires highly qualified staff that serve as parents first so they can help to nurture a student's development.
Joseph has successfully led Covenant Academy schools in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Muskegon. These schools have on-site licensed daycare services, and Muskegon Covenant Academy recently opened a residence for their homeless kids. Here in Kalamazoo, the number of students enrolled in the Academy is growing at a rate faster than what Joseph has seen in the other communities and the number of students attending with babies is much higher than the other schools.
Private funds donated by local business leaders covered the cost of the building and initial expenses. The school receives state funding to provide for students' basic needs and operational expenses. Further expansion anticipated for the second floor will increase the available number of classrooms from 3 to 10.
"I never thought I would be taking care of kids like this" claims Joseph, "but there is no reason for young people not to reach their potential." According to Joseph, it is often a lack of family support that leads students to stray away from school. "We believe there is no other system like ours that takes care of only high school dropouts."
Joseph further explains the need to get kids off the streets and back into the classroom. "While not in school, kids end up hurting themselves and hurting others," he observes. "We work to reconnect them to school, take them as they are, we love them, and we help them."
The mission behind the academy is a very simple one: to prevent youth homelessness and youth incarceration. Every child who wants to turn around and get a high school diploma should be given a chance to earn one. KCA seeks to help break the barriers while offering a nurturing environment, with unconditional love, like every parent should.
To learn more about the Kalamazoo Covenant Academy, contact a member of the staff today!