Did you know that there are more than 3,000 high school-age youth in Genesee County who are not attending school or working?
A new alternative school in Flint is working to change those statistics, according to Winston Stoody, Director of GearUp Academy, which is a program run by the Flint nonprofit, GearUp2Lead. The program is a no-cost, nontraditional school that provides students with an opportunity to earn their high school diplomas through online classes and become employed by a local business partner, nonprofit or government agency. In the program’s first year, there were six students (including one graduate), and 14 the following year. That number is expected to grow to 28 diverse students this year from as far away as Montrose and Fenton, the director reports.
The nonprofit organization was initiated in 2015 through a grant from Phil and Jocelyn Hagerman, with the mission of educating and inspiring youth and adults through a growth mindset. The program is completely funded by grants and private or corporate donations. “The academy provides another option to kids outside the traditional high school setting,” Stoody reports. “Some students need another option and our main focus is to help them get jobs. All of our students, who are 17 years old, have to be employed.”
According to Stoody, the word GEAR in the school’s name represents the organization’s four concepts: Growth mindset, Empathy, Action and Responsibility. “In a growth mindset, the most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work,” he explains. “We believe that skills are built, not born.” The program balances curriculum with authentic experiences. The core subjects are taught in an open, co-work space via online classes. And, the school is also very flexible to the needs of its students.
“We believe that skills are built, not born.”
Kelly Rodgers, who serves as a board member, has been volunteering her time to mentor the students and is very passionate about the school. “The students want a caring adult,” she shares. Guest speakers are invited, such as entrepreneurs and community leaders, Stoody explains. ELGA Credit Union, one of the Academy’s business partners, teaches financial literacy to the students.
What makes GearUp Academy unique is its business partners, explains Tracy Sahouri, another board member. Businesses that work in partnership with the school to employ the students include: Article One Eyewear, Skypoint/100k Ideas, I Source, Northgate, C3 Ventures, Motion Resources, Al Serra, Dee Cramer, Crust/The Laundry, Flint Crepe Company, The Whiting, Peabody Ice Tower, JD Photo Imaging, ELGA Credit Union and Totem Books. “In addition to the important work experience, our business partners provide very valuable mentoring,” Stoody reports. “We are really blessed to have them, as well as our community partners and people who just want to help us,” Rodgers adds. “We’re making a difference already.”
There are many reasons why some kids are not successful in a traditional high school setting. “Some students suffer from severe anxiety,” Sahouri points out. “The nontraditional setting eliminates that.” Another reason that a student may seek out an alternative school is because they’ve been bullied. “Our board members are visionaries,” Sahouri adds. “They are always looking for different ways to educate.”
The school, previously located in the Dryden Building in Downtown Flint, just recently moved to the Ferris building – the perfect location as it houses The Ferris Wheel, a co-working space and innovation zone for professionals, freelancers and startups looking for a place to work and network. “Our kids are learning from smart, innovative entrepreneurs,” Stoody says.
Stoody has found his work as director to be very satisfying. “I love being with the kids and making a difference.” Sahouri agrees with him. “It’s so rewarding to reach out to these students and provide a different way to be educated, and know that there is one less youth out on the street causing more dysfunction.”
Student Zach Tobias says that attending GearUp Academy has been a life-changing experience for him. “It gives me hope,” he says.
At GearUp Academy, students:
- Earn their high school diplomas.
- Participate in the startup and operation of a business or develop and implement a social action project to drive positive changes in the community.
- Become employed by a local business partner, nonprofit or government agency.
Upon receipt of the diploma, students will be equipped to launch their own business ventures, to continue in the workforce, to move on to higher education, or to change the world as they best see fit.
How you can help?
There are many ways you can help GearUp Academy continue to serve the community by providing a nontraditional learning environment for students who have been unsuccessful in a traditional high school setting, such as becoming a Business Partner or making a donation. To learn more or enroll, visit GearUp2Lead.org
Photography by Eric Dutro & provided by GearUP Academy