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Addressing the stereotype of Central High School By chris hudson and maddie monroe

Only four miles and change separate two contrasting institutions, one of which is Central High School, smaller and less recognized, but many do not know what Central is really about.

"I think its easy for people to assume that we are the land of misfit toys, but we are just students who want to learn and need more help," -JC Reyes

A PHOENIX FAMILY

By Maddie Monroe and Chris Hudson

When walking into Central High School, it’s hard not to notice how different it is than Grand Haven High School. As students enter the building in the morning, every teacher lines up at the door, greeting each with a good morning high five and telling them to have a good day.

That’s something you don’t typically see at a high school. Yet, these acts continue throughout the day.

Passing through the narrow yellow-tile hallways, the small student body can appear similar to a family. Sure, many don’t physically look like the person next to them, but each share a sense of trust, uncommon but unique.

With less than 125 students and only seven full-time teachers, those attending and working at Central are closely knit. Every teacher knows every student's name. Another thing you don’t see at Grand Haven High School.

“Everyone here has each others backs, we all come here for the same reasons and we get really close. I think that the teachers here are also more empathetic because a lot of us have tough lives,” student Eliza Christopher said. “We have a full food pantry that you can use at anytime, there’s also clothing you can take if you need it and we have showers for us to use whenever we need too.”

It has often been assumed that Central is basically Grand Haven High School’s student rejects; that kids do not choose to go to Central, they are sent there because of bad behavior.

“We all are kind of misjudged by everyone,” student Stormee St. Bernard Sylvester said. “Not to be rude because I’ve never gone to [Grand Haven High School] but I just feel like people there think it’s a bad stigma; that the only reason why we’re here is because we got caught doing drugs or something like that.”

However, this is false. Central High School is simply a school with students who need more help learning. In short, it’s another secondary option in Grand Haven.

“So Grand Haven has two high schools, we have two high schools intentionally,” said Central High School Principal Paul Kunde. “For 95 percent of students going to Grand Haven High School, it works just fine. But there is a segment of the student population that the high school is just too big and is too much for them and they get lost. So these students come here.”

Having the opportunity to make up on past classes where they might have struggled without the direct support prior to Central, students have a curriculum that is altered to fit each of their needs. Administrators set up specific courses and agendas for that sole purpose.

“So a student can you earn basically two credits per quarter which gives them the opportunity to gain eight credits in a year,” teacher David Funk said.

This strategy is most noticeable in Central’s block schedule; featuring longer classes and shorter marking periods. It gives kids who need extra help what they need. Classes are also much smaller, around 20 students instead of 30. This gives those select students who have a hard time with the large classes at the big high school an opportunity to grow.

“We have four classes a day versus six, so each class each day is 90 minutes,” Kunde said. “The first hour is dedicated to normal class time, the teacher teaches. Then the rest of the time is for students to start homework, or ask questions. It is the best time for students to get one on one help.”

There are many parts of Central that are unusual to a normal high school. Many students do not play sports, on average only about three to four play, mostly because many of the students at Central do not have adequate transportation or many have jobs that take up most of their time.

Students at Central also have many ways to earn more graduation credits. They have a mentorship program which assigns a student to a mentor and by meeting with them you can earn credits. Also, being a member of clubs like calling all colors or student council gives students credit that can be used to earn their diploma as well.

“So we have to earn more elective credits than you do at the big high school, but we have a bunch of different ways you can earn them,” Christopher said. “So by working, joining clubs, volunteering or having a mentor we can get those credits. I really like having a mentor, I meet with a teacher once a week and I get credit for doing it.”

A big part of Central that many of the students who go there have recognized after switching, is the family environment throughout the school. Students have found that with smaller class sizes and so few teachers, you grow close with everyone around you. It’s changed the course of academic and future success for numerous students.

“We’re not the alternative high school,” Funk said. “We’re the other high school option in Grand Haven.”

If you were to walk around Central, you may realize this. That Central is not just a school. It is a family.

“Central gets a pretty bad rep sometimes, but I feel like even after the first week of school I know everyone here,” student Chloe Davis said. “I have never had a problem here and we all just care a lot about each other.”

Q&A with principal Kunde

By Maddie Monroe

When did you start being the principal at Central?

“Well this is my 25th year in education total, I’ve spent some time in Spring Lake, Ravenna and Hamilton. In 2006 I had the opportunity to come to Grand Haven which is home to me and my family and I became the principal here at Central High School and I have been here ever since.”

What else have you taught/done other than being the principal at Central?

“I was a teacher for many years, I taught mainly social studies, I was also a football coach, high school assistant principal, athletic director and this was my first principal job.”

How is Central different from Grand Haven High School?

“So Grand Haven has two high schools, we have two high schools intentionally. Grand Haven High School is our comprehensive school, it’s everything under one roof, it’s a great high school doing great things and for 95 percent of students going to Grand Haven High School, it works just fine. But there is a segment of the student population that the high school is just too big and is too much for them and they get lost. So these students come here. We are a much smaller school we cap out at 125 students, we cannot have any more than that because I don’t have enough furniture for any more than that.”

“Another component of us is cyber school which is another 100 students and then our career development program that right now is 15 students and the outcome of that program is a GED, that is for students whose lives have dictated to them for whatever reason they need to get on with things either with work, school, career or whatever it is they need to get done with school. We are very fortunate in this community to have that, there are a lot of communities that don't have that and for the kids that come here it gives them the opportunity to get a high school diploma that is equivalent to any diploma in the state of Michigan.”

How is the learning environment different here than at Grand Haven High School?

“The content is all the same, the students here are learning the same information. The big difference is our structure, we operate on what is called a block schedule, so we have four nine-week quarters instead of two semesters. We have four classes a day versus six, so each class each day is 90 minutes. So the classes are longer and the students have extra time in class to do homework and get extra help from teachers. Class sizes are much smaller they are around 20 students.”

“I find that the key to success at Central is attendance, just being here. There is a direct correlation between students that attend and pass their classes and those who miss often fail.”

Is there anything you think is unique at Central?

“We have a dog, we are a high school that has a dog and a playground, now our students don’t use the playground, it is reserved for the child services program for the open door kids in the back which is unique, we are a high school that has a young kids program in it those things I think are unique. The small classes sizes are also different, that is very unusual for a high school. Those are the good parts, but the constraints are that since we are a small high school we don’t have everything that's available at Grand Haven High School, we don't have choir, band, orchestra, our students have the ability to participate in athletics and we do have few. But the things that students have at the big high school we just don't have here, all the different classes and opportunities we do not have enough staff or space to be able to provide those things.”

How many teachers/staff do you have at Central?

“I have 7.75 full-time teachers, one of which is here for three quarters of the year.”

Do many students participate in athletics?

“We typically have about four to five a year, most students that go here have jobs, a lot of them do not have the ability to get home after practice, transportation constraints are a big part that's why many choose to not participate in sports. We let them know when athletics are so they have that information and have the option, we try to push that out there and the number seems to be growing.”

When do students start going to Central?

“Typically sophomore year, it's not a hard rule, but we want a student coming from middle school to start at Grand Haven High School for at least a year. Ultimately we want our students to graduate from there, we try and make sure that students spend at least a year at Grand Haven before they decide to come here. About 98 percent stay here and graduate here, we get a few who transfer back and spend the last semester there to graduate from there (GHHS).”

How do you respond to the stereotypes about Central being a school for ‘bad kids’?

“I deal with it all the time, I have parents who come in and they are looking at Central for their kids and I am always up front with them in saying that I bet you think this is where all the bad kids go, but it's simply not true. Mr. Roberson at the High School puts it best, he will say to parents that there is nothing going on at Central that is any worse than what is going on at Grand Haven High School times 10. Because of the size, I actually think that this environment is better, I often have to remind myself of how well the students here do, I have been here since 2006 and have broken up four fights, total. Which is pretty cool, do we have issues, yes. But all high schools have the same issues. The students here are very kind, considerate, understanding and its much more relaxed.”

“I get that question a lot, there is that perception that it's the school where all the bad kids go, but we have done a lot to try and overcome that but I think it's the perception from 20 years ago. That is simply not true, we have kids who go on and do great things in life just like the big high school.”

What have you done to overcome this stereotype?

“Community involvement, we try and get our kids out into the community with volunteer opportunities, we worked on the new imagination station, we bring people in from the community to interact with our kids and see what they are like, so they understand that they are not bad kids.”

Is there anything you want the community or students at Grand Haven to know about Central?

“I have talked about this a few times with different community groups over the years, I think there are some people who are starting to understand this but for the most part, Central kids stay here, they are our neighbors for the rest of their lives. Unlike students at Grand Haven who are more likely to leave. So I have had some community members step up and support these students because they know that these kids will be their neighbors. I think it is important to support Central High School, we celebrate all the amazing things that these kids do because they are still part of Grand Haven even if they go here.”

How are the students here different?

“Central is considered an at-risk school, so many of the kids come from low economic backgrounds, we have a lot of free or reduced lunch students. About 70 percent are, unlike Grand Haven which is about 30 percent. Which makes a big difference in the needs of students, we have a large food and clothing pantry that students can use, no questions asked. We also have showers here for students to use.”

FUNK FORMS A NEW CENTRAL

By Chris Hudson

Take a left turn then journey through the tainted yellow halls of Central High School to the figurative core of the building: the second to last room on the right, or simply, Mr. Funk’s space.

Space, not an enclosed room. Upon entrance as a regular student or an unaffiliated outsider, the comfortable environment that teacher David Funk creates is contagious. It’s a value that all members from the generally forgotten Grand Haven secondary institution live by.

Yet, Funk has helped rebrand what this school will be remembered for. In his utility role, he teaches multiple subjects in a given day; guiding as many kids as possible to earning that diploma down the road.

He’s also done past work in other educational buildings around the community, like Lakeshore Middle School and White Pines Intermediate School; to bring positive change like this to the forefront and striving to spark that change again.

“I always wanted to be a school teacher,” Funk said. “I knew that. Now, I get to see the students that’ll walk across that stage for graduation that I helped with scheduling classes or being a teacher that they can come to. It’s the biggest thing for me.”

This experience is his forte. Few have accomplished what Funk has as a educator in this community. Keeping it simple, in the schools Funk has been a part of, he’s done whatever it’s taken to establish a secure sense of comfort for his students.

“They’ve told me that they felt overwhelmed in the place they were before they came here,” Funk said. “I just try to help them not feel like that in any way I can."

Whether taking the high road to thoroughly work one-on-one with students or finding classes that are best for them; even just forming an environment where the learning target is solely each classmate’s success, Funk has gone that extra mile.

It’s an extra mile that impacts more than just an academic career, but diminishes a stereotype that has defined Central High School.

“I know we’ve been thought of as the place for ‘bad kids’ in Grand Haven,” Funk said. “But, being here for four years and never seeing a fight break out once and giving all these kids opportunities with an open campus feel, that they can go to whatever teacher they need help from at any time aren’t things you’d expect ‘bad kids’ to have. Why? Because they are good kids too.”

Funk noted that many reasons why students come to Central aren’t what outsiders would assume - like the idea of a compact class size that the school features, which in turn has been the biggest benefit for a majority of his students.

“For me, it’s really just the smaller environment that makes me like it here,” junior Tyler King said. “There’s not as many kids here so we don’t have as many problems and everyone just kind of does their own thing.”

Many schools can’t choose the size of their student body, but do have the ability to hire the staff they feel is best to enhance an individual’s learning and success. For King and others, the teachers at Central High School are second to none.

And Funk leads the pack.

“[Funk] has helped me set up a plan for trying to graduate early and for what I want to do going forward,” King said. “He’s been the big one for a lot people in finding what classes people need to take and getting their stuff done.”

Being close to a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ when it comes to having teaching experience in subjects varying from economics to higher level science as well as creating schedules, Funk is always educating and supporting countless individuals each hour to push them closer to their goals and students from all grade levels recognize that.

“With not as many kids here than at another high school, teachers can go around to each kid and personally know and connect with them,” senior Zach Thier said. “I know Mr. Funk helps a lot of kids out pretty much any day because he knows them well and knows the class a kid is struggling in.”

Strolling back through the narrow yellow corridors, a motto shines on Central High School floor mats, posters and signs. It simply states - “Whatever it takes.” Putting those three words into the way he instructs, impacts and idolizes his students, Funk has become a figure that has changed the ‘Phoenix’ way for today and tomorrow.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to help [them] get through this and graduate and get that diploma [they] earned,” Funk said.

"At Central I am more myself, I feel like the people here understand me. That they know what we go through at home because most of us deal with the same things." -Jazzmyn Foreman
"Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't judge us until you meet us, everyone here is really nice and we are a family, we look out for each other." -Eliza Carpenter
"Just because we don't make the same decisions as everyone else doesn't mean we are bad people, we just choose to live our lives differently." -Amaya Luke

Credits:

Maddie Monroe

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