TRAVERSE CITY — The future is near for Greenspire — just about eight months away.

A goal set nearly 12 years ago and three years after the board of education adopted the school’s strategic plan, Greenspire High School is close to fruition. District officials will begin accepting and reviewing applications on Feb. 15 for the expansion to serve freshmen and sophomores. Grades 11 and 12 are slated to be available in three years.

Although an actual Greenspire High School building has yet to be constructed, the district reached an agreement with Northwestern Michigan College to hold classes at the University Center off Cass Road near Boardman Lake.

Robert Walker, Greenspire head of school and superintendent, said the plan is to offer classes to 75 students this fall and expand to 225-250 high school students.

The Michigan Department of Education awarded a $650,000 grant to Greenspire, a charter school that serves sixth- through eighth-grade students, in June 2020 to develop a high school program.

Walker said the decision to add a high school built on Greenspire’s philosophies was a response to community demand.

Greenspire staff works to offer hands-on activities, independent learning, smaller class sizes and “more personalized attention and investment in each student,” Walker said. A respect for the environment is also key in the education model.

“What do people want? Do they want this type of education? Overwhelmingly, people said yes they do,” he said. “To be able to transfer that over to a high school, which is a rare thing in today’s world, is an opportunity for us to continue what we do.”

Kate Botello, a parent of an eighth grader at Greenspire, is ready to submit her application come Feb. 15.

Botello described her daughter, BrookeLynn, as “energetic and very outdoorsy” with a deep love for the environment. She said Greenspire has been good for her daughter’s growth.

The experience at Greenspire is about “a million years away” from Botello’s own experience in middle school, she said.

“Those Greenspire kids know this massive nature spot like the back of their hands, which is a really cool thing to see,” she said. “BrookeLynn knows every inch of it — what it is, what it does, what it means. She’ll keep learning that at the high school.”

Walker and board trustee Meagan Batdorff said the University Center was chosen because of its proximity to the water and forest areas as well as nature trails to “offer the best of both worlds” — a high school environment coupled with outdoor learning.

Getting a high school off the ground is Batdorff’s passion. She wrote the school’s charter in 2009, and that charter has always included offering high school.

“This school is not just intended as an expansion of the Greenspire Middle School,” she said. “We have been planning this school to serve a lot more than students who attended Greenspire Middle School.”

Batdorff is hopeful the construction of the high school will allow for partnerships with local agri-businesses as well as a viticulture program to focus on growing and harvesting grapes for wine. The hands-on learning involved will give students experience that is attractive to colleges.

The partnership with NMC also offers a middle college program for students to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

“These are the kind of skills colleges and universities want,” Walker said. “The ability to do the hands-on learning, critical thinking, problem solving, project-based — and not just coming out with rote memorization and facts and figures.”

Staff members are writing curriculum, identifying challenges and recruiting students to join the program.

Mike Schramm, the high school development consultant hired in October to help get the venture off the ground, said the COVID-19 pandemic has presented difficulties, but they’ve managed to continue progress.

“We want to make sure we’re doing the things to keep us on track to open Sept. 7,” Schramm said. “This has been a goal, a dream of the Greenspire community for a long time.”

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