Lapeer Community Schools (LCS) is located in southeast Michigan just east of Flint. This suburban district is the largest of five school districts in Lapeer County. During the 2019-20 school year, LCS had an enrollment just under 5,000 students. The student make-up is predominantly white with approximately half considered economically disadvantaged.
The district offers educational programs at Lapeer High School (10th-12th grade), Zemmer Campus (8th and 9th grade), Rolland-Warner Middle School (6th and 7th grade), Center for Innovation/West Campus (multi-ages), five elementary schools (K-5th grade), Kids & Company Preschool & Childcare, and Cramton Campus (multi-ages). Multiple learning options are available for students throughout the district. Regardless of which program option families choose, everyone is part of the #ONELAPEER family.
Like most districts around the state, Lapeer has experienced declining enrollment for many years due to a decrease in birth rates. Since 2008, Lapeer’s enrollment has decreased by over 2,000 students. Superintendent Matt Wandrie has been leading the district for eight of these 11 years. Over his educational career, he has had roles in human resources, principalship, athletics, and teaching which have given him a foundation for his current position. Through years of budget cuts and closing facilities, Matt has worked tirelessly with his staff and the community to continue to provide quality options for families enrolled in LCS. Some of these programs are highlighted here.
Center for Innovation Campus
In 2014, the former Lapeer West High School reopened its doors as the Center for Innovation (CFI), also known as West Campus. This unique building houses many non-traditional programs the district offers. Programs offered in the building that challenge students to reach their highest potential include Community High School, the L12 Capstone Program, Lapeer Virtual, Project Lead the Way, College on Campus, and the Robotics programs. The Young Musicians Community band and a Senior Walking program also use the building.
Each day, 600-800 students take transfer busses to CFI from the other campuses. “The students enjoy the different schedule and change of scenery,” said Jared Field, Director of Communications & District Services. Twelve staff members support the programs and the students who attend them. Programs offered at CFI are described below.
Community High School
Community High School, Lapeer’s alternative education program, combines direct instruction with online courses so students can choose to attend morning or afternoon. About 100 students have weekly credit checks with a counselor and are connected with a mentor who helps them with their online courses. A Dropout Prevention Coordinator is available on staff for additional support. When students are not at CFI, they attend the ISD EdTech Center, work, take care of younger siblings or children, or assist with family obligations. Community High School’s space at CFI meets the needs of the students with a Focus Room, an On-Target Room, and a Lounge.
L12 Capstone Program
Seniors choosing not to take the AP Capstone course for 12th grade Language Arts credit (see the Lapeer High School section) sign up for the L12 Capstone that takes place at the Center for Innovation. This program focuses on the skills needed for the workplace including teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, technology, and time management. The course is structured in a project-based, blended learning format where the students progressively take more individual responsibility for their projects. Many students complete the program with an internship or community-based project.
The Center for Innovation houses Lapeer Virtual (LV). Whether students need to catch up on classes, want to move ahead at a faster pace, prefer elective courses not offered on campus, or expect a personalized learning experience, LV is available to them. From three online class to a full schedule, the program is available to all K-12 students enrolled with Lapeer. Students receive support from Lapeer Virtual Supervisor, Michele Pfeiffer, who assists them both online and in the drop-in center. “This year we have a fun, comfortable Friends-themed center where students come to work on assignments, get help, and meet with one another,” shared Michele. The space is less like a classroom or computer lab and more like a coffee-shop atmosphere where students enjoy spending time getting their work done.
Project Lead the Way
The middle-level Project Lead the Way program meets at the Center for Innovation. Students in 6th and 7th grade can opt-in to this two-hour STEM “Gateway Program” and receive credit for a science course plus a science elective. Those that choose this curriculum option start school an hour earlier than their peers, many arriving by bus to the high school and then bussed to CFI or the middle school to start their day. Every year, this program has a waiting list. This student-centered curriculum focuses on activities and projects where students lead their own learning as they identify problems and find solutions. PLTW classes include Automation and Robotics, Design and Modeling, Medical Detectives, and Flight and Space. “With the PLTW curriculum teachers assume more of a facilitator role and guide students through problem based learning experiences,” said Jaime Ratliff, STEM Program Coordinator with Lapeer. As they collaborate in groups, students apply what they are learning and demonstrate that learning through unique ways. One way is through the Rube Goldberg project. Every December, more than 200 sixth- and seventh-graders plan their section of a massive Rube Goldberg project. They then have five days to build with their group, using what they know about potential energy, kinetic energy, and energy transfer. On Launch Day, the entire Rube Goldberg challenge is demonstrated from beginning to end.
Ricky Eddie, a 2020 graduate, took PLTW classes in middle school. “The block schedule and coming in early was difficult at first,” he shared about his experience. “I wanted to quit but I’m glad I didn’t because it was so much fun.” His favorite parts were the family atmosphere and working on the Rube Goldberg project. “It was extremely difficult, but we helped each other when parts of the project failed.” Teamwork, communication, and collaboration are some of the soft skills learned through the PLTW program. “I gained confidence in talking to adults, made a lot of friends, and learned a lot,” he said. Now he and other PLTW graduates mentor “littles” and encourage them not to quit.
Baker College, who had previously provided CNC training at CFI for Lapeer students, donated the $116,000 worth of advanced manufacturing equipment to the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program. This equipment, along with additional purchases from a Marshall grant, “broadens the scope of experiential training we can offer our students,” explained Jaime Ratliff, adding, “We’re also hoping to include robotics as a STEM course offering soon.”
Robotics is currently a K-12 after-school program at Lapeer with the exception of fifth grade. Thanks to a MiSTEM grant, all fifth-grade students get some exposure to robotics through VEX IQ kits. These students come to the Center for Innovation to work on the kits, and have the opportunity to join one of two Lapeer VEX® IQ teams. Other competitive robotics teams at Lapeer include Jr. FIRST® Lego League, FIRST® Lego League, FIRST® Tech Challenge, VEX® EDR, and FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC).
The two FRC Lapeer robotics teams call the Center for Innovation home. The Chimeras – Team 1684 and Strike Zone – Team 5460 each have their own lab space (i.e., room) to prepare for competitions. High school students who attend Lapeer schools and area homeschoolers make up the teams.
While the team goal is to build the best robot to win competitions, FRC students learn so much more through their involvement. All the roles needed to accomplish their goal are similar to those of running a business. In addition to engineering and programming skills, students learn teamwork, organization, time management, leadership, marketing, and accounting. During competition season there are also roles for game strategists, promotion, safety management, and scouting other teams.
In the off-season, students have the opportunity to participate in events like the annual ROBO-CON Festival, demonstrate robots to various groups, mentor younger students, help with fundraising, recruit new members, create promotional materials, and of course, work on improving their robot.
The FRC teams are active 10-11 months a year with the FIRST® Robotics Competition season taking place January through April. After a live announcement of the year’s game criteria, students have six weeks to design, build, and perfect their robot for competition. During the process, students are assisted by professionals from the community, colleges, and universities in an apprentice-type relationship. Competition season is exciting, loud, and fun. Michigan, in general, dominates robotics globally and both teams have qualified to compete against teams from around the world in the FIRST® Robotics World Championship two years in a row.
The nonprofit Young Musicians Community sponsors a free after-school program for students interested in learning to play in a rock band. Through the family-atmosphere of 3rd Degree Burns Band students gain self-esteem, learn to accept all people, and become a part of something bigger than themselves. In addition to the three degrees of band membership, a host of volunteers make the program possible. The band performs most weekends during the summer and for other events throughout the year.
CFI is a large, sprawling building with wide hallways that form a square. During the winter months and inclement weather, the halls are often used by the community’s senior citizens for exercise.
Lapeer Homeschool Partnership
The District’s Cramton Campus was originally an elementary school, then served as the alternative education site, and now houses the Lapeer Homeschool Partnership (LHP). LHP offers families choice and flexibility in their student’s education. Some students take elective courses with LHP and their core at home. Others enroll full-time with Lapeer Virtual, complete their work at home, and come to campus for assistance and additional opportunities. A recent graduate started her own business while taking courses through LHP. The students who enroll with LHP want to take responsibility for their own schedules and make educational choices that are important to them. LHP staff work with every interested family to meet their unique educational needs.
In its sixth year, LHP is facilitating the education of more than 200 K-12 students from Lapeer County and six neighboring counties. All courses use online curriculum (the same as offered to every student in the district) and students are assigned a mentor that they meet with weekly. High school students have the opportunity to take dual enrolled courses to receive college credit with Baker College, UM-Flint , or Mott Community College. Students can also participate in robotics, Lapeer sports (following MHSAA guidelines), graduation, and Swing Out (a parade through downtown where seniors wear their cap and gown).
“The benefit of using a repurposed facility is that we have plenty of space for Optional Learning Experiences (OLE),” shared Michon Periso, Director of the LHP. OLEs offer academic enrichment to enhance student understanding of the online content. The Cramton Campus boasts a complete kitchen for culinary practice, biology and chemistry labs for experiments, an art room with working kiln, a computer lab, a gymnasium where physical education skills are gained, and many classrooms. “Most of the OLEs we offer take place at the Cramton Campus, but there are a few that meet in the community,” Periso explained.
Lapeer Homeschool Partnership students taking only non-essential or elective courses can take up to four online courses. Courses include art, music, physical education and technology. The students who choose to take an OLE with those courses, come to campus, with their families, one day a week to participate in a multi-grade experience.
Core OLEs are also available for full-time online students. Full-time LHP students who take all their courses through Lapeer Virtual and choose to take OLEs, come to campus two or three days a week to participate in them. These OLEs are structured by grade level. Any student enrolled with Lapeer Community Schools can take any of the optional learning experiences offered.
Lapeer High School
In addition to the programs listed above, the 1,300 10th-12th grade students at Lapeer High School have advanced opportunities through the following programs.
College on Campus
About 300 Lapeer students take dual enrolled courses from UM-Flint , Baker College, or Mott Community College. Many of these students are in Lapeer’s Early College program. A shuttle bus takes students from the high school to Mott Community College where students can earn an associate degree in any program offered there. University of Michigan – Flint professors come to the high school to teach courses in engineering while Baker College instructors teach Anatomy and Physiology at CFI. The college credit or associate degree earned is saving Lapeer student thousands of dollars in higher education costs.
AP Capstone Program
Approximately 500 students in 9th-12th grade take the 17 AP classes offered every year. Because some students take more than one AP class, the district administers 650-700 AP tests each spring. While many Michigan high schools have AP courses, Lapeer offers their students an advanced option, the AP Capstone Program.
Six years ago, Lapeer was one of 26 districts in the state to offer the AP Capstone Program. Now, over 2,000 schools nationally offer the program. In addition to taking AP courses, students in the AP Capstone Program take an AP Seminar and an AP Research course over two years. These two courses count as a language arts credit so a student could essentially take all AP courses for their language arts credits. In the two courses, students develop critical thinking, research, collaboration, time management, and presentation skills that will help them with all AP and college courses as well as in their future careers.
There are about 99 Lapeer students in the AP Capstone Program. Students can earn an AP Capstone Diploma™ and/or an AP Seminar and Research Certificate™ from the College Board based on their performance on their AP exams. To receive the AP Capstone Diploma, a student must receive a score of 3 or higher on four AP exams as well as the AP Seminar and AP Research exams. In 2018, three students from Lapeer received AP National Scholar Awards which means they receive an average score of at least 4 on all AP Exams taken and scored 4 or higher on eight or more of the exams.
Aryanna, one student who received this distinction as a junior, shared that she enjoyed the AP Capstone Program because there was a lot of discussion in groups, and it helped her hone her presentation and writing skills. “It has taken the nerves out of college,” she said. In addition to the AP National Scholar Award, Aryanna is also a National Merit Semi-Finalist Scholar.
“Students used to strive for the University of Michigan or other in-state colleges as the “best” school they could get into,” shared Doug Lindsay, Principal at Lapeer High School. “But because of the AP Capstone Program, they are now looking at and going to places like John Hopkins, Oregon, Purdue, Georgia Tech, and Loyola.”
Year-Round Schooling Options
For students in grades K-8, families have the choice between two school calendars; traditional and year-round. Lapeer’s balanced calendar, i.e., year-round, has a shorter summer and more frequent breaks. The year-round calendar begins at the end of July and has slightly different breaks than the traditional calendar but finishes the year at the same time. Students still attend 180 days.
Since 2012, Turrill Elementary School has been operating on a year-round basis. With 450 students, it is the largest of the elementary schools in Lapeer, and the only one not considered a neighborhood school as most students ride the bus. Parents appreciate the opportunity to make the decision of year-round school for their child as shown by the waiting list Turrill maintains every year. Not only does it provide options for parents, teachers also make the decision to teach on this schedule.
Students enroll in one of the five elementary schools and most often stay at that school for their entire elementary years. While the schedule may be different at Turrill, the learning environment is the same as in the other buildings. As a comprehensive K-5 building, students are assigned teachers by grade level and specials teachers are shared between the five elementary schools. The difference at Turrill are the intercessions that take place during their breaks in October, February, and March. Each intercession has a theme, is taught by a lead teacher/coordinator, and has an affordable tuition rate for the week.
Running two separate calendars in a district can be a scheduling nightmare, but according to Scott Warren, principal at Turrill Elementary, “the value embedded in the options we offer families is worth it.”
Students in 6th and 7th grades, have the option to attend Rolland-Warner Middle School on the balanced calendar. The middle school differs from Turrill in that the model is a school-within-a-school rather than school-wide. The actual days they attend may be different, but year-round middle school students follow the same expectations as all other middle school students. They can also participate in extra-curriculars with students on the traditional calendar.
Outdoor Education Campus
Lapeer Community Schools owns an 80-acre outdoor education site called Skinner Lake Campus which is used for science learning. In addition to two ponds and Skinner Lake access, the grounds also boast a forest overlook, pavilion, fire pit, and building which houses a lab. Students have access to snowshoes and Garmins. Outdoor Education Coordinator, Beth Rupprecht, assists teachers in writing curriculum and supporting teachers as they bring their students to the property. Every fall, first-grade students observe wildlife and build habitats on the property while fifth-grade students study the ecosystems, forest floors, wetlands, and transition zones. The lab is used to examine specimens they collect. In the spring, third-grade students study the wetlands and the various types of trees that are abundant on the property. As the AP Environmental class works on projects throughout the year, they spend one day a month gathering data out at the campus. Year-end projects are presented in the pavilion. In addition to classes using the campus, K-9 units use it to train their dogs and the DNR is managing their forest. This property offers unlimited potential for unique LCS programming.
Even in a time of declining enrollment, Lapeer Community Schools strives to offer a variety of quality learning options to their families. Students have the ability to make “where, when, and how” choices as they are challenged to become learners in an environment that meets their needs. Whether in a building, at home, or in the community, students receive support for their chosen learning path and are welcomed into the #ONELAPEER family.
Author: Lisa Sitkins, Consultant for EdTech Specialists, December 2019