As a Pathfinder School Board member, I was asked why I feel educationally independent school choices are important to our community.
In turn I ask, “does our region have educational choices that will meet students’ creative and critical thinking needs for their careers to come?” Will our region have talent for the demands of a new economy? Clearly, Casey Cowell’s Boomerang Catapult vision to attract talented individuals back to this region is spot-on. But are other essential community elements in place to attract and retain that talent?
Of course, families choose to relocate for a multitude of reasons — jobs, housing, cultural elements, public transportation with global accessibility, friends/family connections and great schools with many educational options. Natural beauty and outdoor recreation contribute to our quality of life and why many folks choose this stunning region to visit and then retire. Is beauty alone worth the risk of uprooting one’s family?
Educational options for some are paramount. For my family, in 2011, it was our greatest concern when we relocated from Troy to Frankfort with our three sons. Locally, Benzie and Frankfort–Elberta schools have strengths; two sons graduated Frankfort-Elberta High School and they had great experiences. However, our third son, Gabe, needed greater educational freedom than a public school could offer and he spent his middle school years at The Pathfinder School, an independent school, located 45 miles away. Pathfinder stoked his passion for learning through a more individualized approach to curriculum, focused on experiential learning, and he thrived in that environment. For many students, the middle school years are pivotal and Pathfinder’s flexible approach to curriculum maximizes students’ potential, preparing them for both high school and their life after. From there, he was accepted at Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA) — rated as one of the finest arts schools in the world — 31 miles away, which was never in our mind’s eye or part of our plan when we moved in 2011.
IAA has 33 local students and the summer camp programs bring talent from around the country and world. They have numerous programs for students to explore and specifically one called “Interdisciplinary Arts” that afforded Gabe the breadth to explore all art forms in addition to rigorous studies 10-plus hours per day. It is our hope for our sons to have the mental agility, passion and grit to succeed in whatever careers they choose. They have become liberal arts “generalists” in a faster moving world, where millennials will have 15 or more careers over their lifetime; perhaps their competitive edge may be a solid educational base that opened-up creative and critical thinking skills from a community of great educational choices.
We moved from Troy — which had Brother Rice/Marian Catholic Schools, Country Day School, International Academy (Ranked No. 1 in America), Cranbrook, Waldorf, Roper and also amazing public schools — to Frankfort which has (please forgive me if your school isn’t named) St. Francis/GTACS, IAA, The Pathfinder School, The Leelanau School, Greenspire and also amazing public schools. When it comes to attracting new families to the area, diverse educational choices are a key ingredient for winning.
About the author: Bill Kennis is Pathfinder School development chair and works for Benzie Bus.
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