Flint, MI—Students lined up across the hallways of Holmes STEM Middle School Academy, waiting to receive their class schedules for the semester. Others huddled shoulder to shoulder, comparing schedules with their peers. As students searched for their respective classrooms, staff members helped guide them along the way on the first day of school.
At Flint Community Schools, Aug. 3, 2022, marked the start of the fall semester, with the school district returning for a half day on Wednesday. The district then hosted a kick-off event for staff and district representatives at the Whiting Auditorium the next day.
Sebastian Pasquini, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Holmes, said on Aug. 3, that he is eager to meet the new students of the middle school.
“The reason I like teaching is getting to have those relationships with kids,” Pasquini said. “That’s what I look forward to. That’s what keeps me going.”
For Holmes’ principal Scott Henwood, it’s not only students’ academic growth that he looks forward to seeing most, but also the independence and self-discipline they develop over time.
“It’s just always great to see all the different ways that our students will grow throughout the year,” Henwood said.
This school year spells new beginnings for students, staff and the district at large. While Flint Community Schools faces a host of ongoing challenges, its strategic plan, which was approved by the board in June 2022, lays out the district’s vision and goals for 2022 through 2027.
Kevelin Jones, superintendent of Flint Community Schools, hopes to restore the pride of Flint in the district, and he said the district is keying in on “re-energizing, renovating and rebuilding.”
“There’s a lot of downturn in our community,” Jones continued. “But we are change agents. Being change agents, we have to build in [students] the self-confidence that they need, give them the social and emotional support that they need, so that they can survive and thrive in the community.”
As part of its strategic plan, one of the district’s priorities is to develop “the whole child from cradle to career.” Doing so includes boosting the graduation rate of traditional 12th-grade scholars by five percent in the next five years. The district also aims to increase the percentage of students participating in extracurricular activities, like arts, sports and tutoring, to 40 percent this academic year from roughly 25 percent in the 2021 to 2022 school year, Jones explained.
Fostering “a culture and climate of excellence that is conducive to high levels of teaching and learning,” is another priority in the strategic plan. That involves improving relationships between students and staff as well as increasing parent involvement, among other objectives.
In particular, the district seeks to see an annual five percent of parents, per school, participate in a structured parent activity, such as parent nights and monthly parent meetings, from 2022 to 2027.
As a family engagement facilitator at Holmes, Marjai Childress supports parents with their needs and connects them with their kids’ educational resources. Childress, who was an eighth-grade math substitute teacher at Holmes in the last academic year, welcomes the change in position, and she is excited to engage with members across the school.
“I’m the grandmother,” Childress said of her new role at Holmes. “I keep the family together.”
“I look forward to getting more parents involved, and us, as a team, as a community, to [helping] encourage them mentally and emotionally,” she noted.
Supporting the emotional wellbeing of both parents and their children would, in turn, help improve scholars’ grades, attendance and education, Childress added.
When it comes to school attendance, Jones said having students attend school consistently is one of the biggest challenges the district faces. He noted that the district aims to increase the daily attendance rate to 80 percent this academic year, compared to 76 percent in the 2021 to 2022 school year.
“We want the number to be in the 90s, but it’s going to take some time to get there,” Jones said. “You still have families afraid of the COVID situation. You still have families that have their own circumstances and issues.”
For this school year, officials are recommending the use of masks in district buildings, instead of implementing a broad mask mandate, and Jones encouraged families to stay up to date with the district’s revised COVID protocols.
Maria Holmes said that she and her son Jerimiah Holmes, a fourth grader at Brownell STEM Academy, will continue wearing masks on school grounds throughout the year. During the pandemic, Jerimiah contracted COVID twice. When others at school were infected with COVID, he missed a total of about a month of in-person schooling last year as he quarantined at home, Holmes added.
With matching batman face masks, Holmes accompanied her son to Brownell on the first day of school. As she looks ahead to the new school year, she said she hopes that Jerimiah will get more opportunities to join after-school activities. More broadly, Holmes said she is “hoping that he does the best that he can and he gets the best education that he can.”
She continued, “But he’s really good in school, so he’s going to do good.”