10th Birthday Grantees Check-in: Alpena Public Schools
In August 2020, MCAN awarded $10,000 grants to ten organizations in the ten days leading up to MCAN’s 10th birthday. These 10th Birthday Grants provided $100,000 in funding to community organizations across Michigan whose services aligned with MCAN’s mission of education equity for low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. As MCAN's 11th birthday approaches, last year's grantees are sharing how the funding has helped them serve their communities, as well as their organizations’ overall successes in the past year.
This week, Lee Fitzpatrick from Alpena Public Schools shares how its 10th Birthday Grant facilitated the purchase of new laptops needed by high school students in the district who were taking college courses.
Alpena Public Schools (APS) is a county-wide district, and one of the largest districts geographically in the state. Unlike many districts in urban areas that may cover 20 to 50 square miles, we draw students from an area just under 1,200 square miles. We are a mix of urban and rural areas, and close to 60% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. This means that transportation and access to technology are major challenges for many of our students. We also struggle with the minimum state funding for our schools, a shrinking tax base, and declining enrollment that has seen our high school population diminish by 50% since the building was constructed in the 1960s.
We were able to use the 10th Birthday Grant to address a gap that had become clear in recent years but was made much worse when we moved to remote learning. Lack of access to technology and the internet had become a major roadblock for students in both our dual enrollment and early college programs. Like almost all roadblocks to education, it impacted our rural and low-income students the most. APS, like many K-12 districts, relies on Google products and Chromebooks due to their affordability. As we were meeting with postsecondary partners and local employers for our Michigan Marshall Plan grant, we found that employers in the community and postsecondary partners like Alpena Community College almost exclusively used Microsoft products. In particular, there are several courses at the college offered to APS students that required access to a Microsoft-compatible computer just to take the class. While APS and Alpena Community College had several PCs available to students, the students had to be able to access the buildings that housed the computers to use them. Even in normal times, our low-income and rural students struggle with transportation. During the pandemic, it was no longer an option to go to campus and access the devices they needed to complete their work.
We were able to use 10th Birthday Grant to purchase more Microsoft-compatible laptops. These laptops were loaned out to students in need of devices to complete their work for college courses. This provided a vital resource for college success to our most at-risk students. I’m proud to say that our partners at Alpena Community College followed suit and purchased laptops for a similar lending program for any student at the college. Identifying gaps — especially gaps that affect at-risk students — is a constant battle. Then when you identify them, it is often a struggle to find funding to address those issues. MCAN’s grant was a very timely solution for the students in our community, and it helped us to do our part in the drive to reach Michigan’s postsecondary attainment goal of Sixty by 30. We were proud to be able to use those funds to provide equity of opportunity to students that would have seen their chances at success reduced or eliminated by the pandemic and the lack of access that it created. We are now adding much greater emphasis on access to training with Microsoft products at our high school so that our students are able to be career and college ready as they move forward with their lives.