It was an exciting day for the Flint community when ground was broken in late June at the site of a new, public, nonprofit charter school on the Cultural Center grounds. The Flint Cultural Center Academy is expected to open for the 2019/20 school year and will serve approximately 650 students. The 78,000-square-foot school will feature 37 classrooms, a gymnasium, cafeteria and kitchen. It will also include an adjacent exhibit and learning space with three multipurpose classrooms that will provide students and the staff direct access to the Flint Institute of Music and Sloan Museum.
According to Mark Sinila, Chief Operating Officer, Flint Cultural Center Corporation (FCCC), the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has committed up to $35 million to cover the cost of the school and some enhancements for the Cultural Center, such as the entrance off Robert T. Longway and necessary parking lot improvements. He also points out there is no association between the new charter school and the upcoming millage.
“I am excited for the kids and for the community,” says Sinila, “and also about how this school will have a lasting impact for many future generations.” The students will have daily use of the Flint Institute of Music, Longway Planetarium, Sloan Museum, The Whiting, Flint Institute of Arts and the Flint Public Library. “The charter school is the beginning of something new, with enhanced learning opportunities for the students attending,” he says. “Students will have amenities these institutions provide as part of their education on a daily basis. This new and unique cultural exposure takes learning to an entirely new and exciting level.”
Mott Foundation President, Ridgway White, says the proximity of the Cultural Center institutions was a key factor in determining the location for the new school. “The Steering Committee felt that it was vitally important that the school be physically connected to the Flint Institute of Music and Sloan Museum, with access to the core institutions across the street,” says White. “We saw the opportunity to take the Cultural Center assets and imbed them into a school that will give students a world class learning experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the region. It’s about creating that spark in a child for life-long learning.” White is looking forward to the day the school opens. “I can’t wait to see kids smiling in the classrooms,” he says. “I can’t wait to see them in the school in the fall of 2019.”
According to Sinila, the Cultural Center institutions will continue to host field trips and conduct outreach programs that provide educational opportunities to students in Flint Community Schools and other districts. The CCC will also oversee the design and construction of the school, which also includes outfitting of the furniture, equipment and technology.
Grand Valley State University approved the school’s charter. EL Education, a national nonprofit organization specializing in K-12 education, will help the academy create a curriculum and culture that supports student engagement, achievement and character. The project’s lead design and construction partners are Flint-based THA Architects Engineers and E & L Construction Group, Inc.
The institution executive directors are very excited about the new charter school. At first, Kay Schwartz, Director of Library Services, Flint Public Library, had misgivings about it being a charter school, but those uncertainties have since been eased. “This is a non-profit, public school,” she says. “Being non-profit was really important to me,” she admits, “and the fact that all of the funding received will go to student education.” What Schwartz is most excited about is the unique opportunity that it provides for the students.
“We (Flint Public Library) will be their library,” says Schwartz, as there will be no other library physically housed inside the academy. “We have various media to help kids learn in different ways and 50,000 items that can be checked out for kids birth to age 18. The kids at the Cultural Center Academy will get to experience this every day.” The librarians will also work with the teachers in developing the curriculum, Schwartz adds.
Todd Slisher, Executive Director, Sloan*Longway, says his staff will work with teachers on curriculum related to science and social studies. “Our education team is already working with the school,” Slisher adds. “I’m excited about the impact we can have on kids and the opportunity to work even more closely with them in a high-quality environment.” Slisher also reports this collaboration is in addition to the existing educational partnerships they have with area school districts. “It won’t take anything away from what we are already doing.”
On june 26, community leaders gathered to break ground for the new flint cultural center academy.
John Henry, Executive Director, Flint Institute of Arts, is excited about the new school and the opportunity to turn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics). “The results of a national study strongly support higher student performance for those who have art in their class schedule,” he says. The FIA will have activities in the galleries and the studios that align with the curriculum. “Our staff is very experienced in following curriculum,” he reports. “Using our galleries as a classroom is a big deal.” He also says this collaboration will not conflict with other things that FIA has going on in the community.
According to Jarret M. Haynes, Executive Director, The Whiting, the academy will provide experiences in the performing arts and the visual arts that align with the curriculum. “We have an opportunity to provide a unique and immersive experience that draws on the power of the arts to meaningfully enhance a child’s education,” says Haynes. The Whiting will also explore ways to align the technical and stage sides of the performing arts with the curriculum. “There are truly boundless opportunities among ourselves, educators and increased collaboration of the individual organizations to provide a transformative experience for students,” Haynes adds. “Using the individual and collective strengths of the organizations on this campus will set high standards in education across the region, the state and the nation.”
Rodney Lontine, President/CEO, Flint Institute of Music sees the academy as a touchstone for experiential arts learning. “I also see it serving as a gateway for many students and their families – creating a connection and a sense of community with the Cultural Center institutions that they might not otherwise have had.”
Photography by Jennifer Hodney
Renderings Provided by Tha Architects Engineers