Community Engagement and Partnerships

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s (WKKF) support of Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS) is an investment in the future of Battle Creek. The success of BCPS and its students is directly tied to the vitality and well-being of the community. The transformation of BCPS has been driven by a belief in the importance of centering community. When communities drive their own transformation — when they determine how problems are defined, how decisions are made and how solutions are created — meaningful and enduring change is possible. BCPS has continued to build partnerships with local organizations and businesses in order to keep the community-driven essence of the transformation alive.

Parent Engagement

Throughout the transformation process, BCPS has cultivated strong relationships with families, providing them the tools and resources they need to build supportive learning environments in their homes — a need which became especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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BCPS Family Engagement events in 2021-22
Family Advocates/Communities in Schools

 In the first year of the transformation, BCPS created a family advocate position in every building, a person responsible for building relationships with families to increase parent trust, identify family needs and connect them with services and supports. In the third year of the transformation, BCPS leaders began working with Communities in Schools (CIS), an organization which utilizes school-based site coordinators) who refer families to community resources when they need them so students can focus on learning. Many BCPS site coordinators are former family advocates and parents of BCPS students.

CIS helps families access food assistance, transportation, laundry vouchers, mental health treatment, medical services and dental care to help remove barriers for vulnerable students and improve attendance and academic achievement. During the height of the pandemic, CIS became more essential than ever as many families struggled to meet basic needs. CIS coordinators helped manage meal and technology distribution and conduct family wellbeing home visits. In 2021-22, CIS continued to distribute $22,000 worth of food to BCPS families.

At-Home Literacy Supports

At BCPS, literacy is a key academic focus — and also an important means of building partnerships with families to foster a lifelong love of reading. Each BCPS elementary school offers literacy nights to engage families in the work of building students’ reading and writing skills at home.

These events shifted to be virtual during the height of the pandemic, which actually increased engagement, serving as a good lesson to district leaders on the importance of meeting families where they are. Other activities to involve families in students’ literacy growth include events with Willard Library, read-a-loud videos, and sharing books and other reading materials with students to bring home. 

Community Partnerships for Student Success

Throughout the transformation process, improving academic outcomes for BCPS students has required community-wide collaboration, to meet the needs of every student inside and outside the classroom.

English Language Learner (ELL) Student Support

Throughout the transformation, BCPS has made a concerted effort to improve communication with Spanish- and Burmese-speaking parents and families, including establishing close partnerships with Voces and the Burma Center. In focus groups, both Spanish- and Burmese-speaking parents said they rely on these organizations for additional support and resources (e.g., interpreters, tutors, after-school programming, housing resources, etc.) for their families. These community organizations have also been involved directly with supporting student success, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering individual, in-language tutoring to students who needed extra support.

Kindergarten Readiness Gains

Across Battle Creek, Kindergarten readiness rates have tripled since 2013, due in part to a concerted citywide effort to focus on early childhood care and education. Community organizations across Battle Creek have been working toward systems-level change to set students up for success from birth by sharing data and learnings and implementing a county-wide data system that enables community partners to better reach each child’s family with services and monitor their progression, needs and participation through high school. Opportunities beginning at birth:

    • Well-Baby program
    • Home visiting program
    • Playgroups
    • Expansion of Head Start, including 3-year-olds in addition to 4-year-olds
    • Great Start Readiness Program/Calhoun Intermediate School District and other community partners
    • BCPS Kindergarten Success Program

Community Economic Partnerships

Community engagement is key to sustainable change. Local companies depend on the pipeline of talent coming out of Battle Creek Public Schools, just as families rely on job security and stability in the local economy. With the support of WKKF, BCPS has partnered directly with local government and businesses to help support the economic success of the community at large.

Career Academies

Prior to the transformation, Battle Creek employers long lamented the need to hire talent from other cities and states due to a lack of skilled workforce in the community. Starting in 2017 when the planning phase for Career Academies began, BCPS district leaders and the business community have helped students build job and life skills they can use after graduation, and to give employers access to a pipeline of talent.

Career Academies has been structured to expose students to new career options that they may not have otherwise considered, in direct collaboration with local employers. Students can take advantage of internships and job shadowing experiences that put them directly in the field, allowing them to begin building their own professional networks and learn more about in what sort of environment they can thrive.

Over the past four years of Career Academies programming, leaders have seen that students are eager to take advantage of these opportunities: In 2021-22, 328 freshmen attended career panels and 104 attended the Career Exploration Fair, more than in any previous year. Of the 70 BCCHS Career Academies community partner organizations in 2021-22, 88% returned from the previous year. Twenty-eight organizations participated in the Career Exploration Fair and partners contributed a total of $73,605 in in-kind investments or other donations. Eighty-four individuals from partner organizations participated in career panels and 34 volunteers conducted mock interviews for students.

Adult Education

BCPS offers a free education program for adults interested in earning their GED or high school equivalency. The program also offers English as a second language instruction and support with studying for the U.S. citizenship test. Local organizations the Battle Creek Family YMCA, Calhoun County Correctional Facility, Community Action, DENSO Manufacturing, Michigan Works! Southwest, Binda Foundation and The Miller Foundation are also involved in supporting this program. 

One employer partner is DENSO Manufacturing Michigan, Inc., which refers their highly-skilled temporary associates to the program to earn their GEDs so they can become full-time employees. Since the district’s partnership with DENSO began in 2019, 13 employees have earned their GEDs through the program.

BCPS Housing Incentive Program

BCPS launched a program in partnership with the City of Battle Creek to encourage teachers and administrators to settle in Battle Creek and invest in the community as homeowners. The program, which is supported by a WKKF grant, provides a down payment or renovation cost assistance to teachers and staff buying or making improvements to a home in a target neighborhood in the BCPS district. In addition, employees are eligible for a rent subsidy for up to a year while they look for a home to purchase.

Since the program’s launch, more than 60 teachers and staff members have taken advantage of these incentives. These incentives were particularly helpful in the district’s efforts to recruit new staff during the national teacher shortage caused by the pandemic. In the 2022-23 school year, the district will expand housing incentives for staff, doubling the amount of financial support available for down payment assistance and increasing the number of those who are eligible for the rental assistance program. 

(Pictured above) Tyler Gilland, freshman academy principal at BC Central, relocated to Battle Creek. He and his wife used the district’s housing incentive program to purchase their first home.

WKKF Legacy Scholars

Launched in 2005 by WKKF, the Legacy Scholars program, a need-based scholarship to help more students access higher education and career technical training, received a major upgrade in year five of the transformation to ensure even more students can benefit from it.

Under the new design, students who receive need-based financial aid can now use Legacy Scholars funds to cover the cost of tuition and books (whereas in the past, these students were not able to access funds). With these changes, 56 more BCPS students applied for the scholarship than the previous year —  the most applicants ever. 

Grand Valley State University

In 2019, WKKF, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and BCPS announced a new partnership to increase regional access to higher education programming, strengthening the economy of the community and ensuring children and families thrive. The partnership aims to expand the path to higher education options in Battle Creek, underscoring the commitment by area leaders to increase jobs and talent, and create a culture of vitality in the city. A five-year, $15.5 million grant from WKKF to GVSU enables the university to partner with BCPS, providing services not only to BCPS students and teachers, but also to the whole community. Elements of the partnership include:

Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center: In November of 2019, GVSU opened a Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center, a hub where students and community members can get information and resources on higher education. With walk-in and virtual advising appointments, information and resources on colleges and careers, the outreach center has four staff members who offer classes and one-on-one advising about the college admission process, essay writing, financial aid, interviewing and career exploration. In the 2021-22 year, 252 BCCHS students attended virtual or in-person appointments with the GVSU Career Navigator to receive information regarding college, financial aid and career services.

GVSU Curriculum Design Partnership: The GVSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Regional Math and Science Center and the College of Education worked hand-in-hand with BC STEM teachers to design the advanced project-based learning (PBL) curriculum taught in the middle school. The curriculum builds learning into interactive projects and exposes students to potential career paths in math, science and engineering. Over the past three years, GVSU has trained over 100 BCPS teachers in PBL approaches.

GVSU Student-Teacher Pipeline: The 2021-22 school year was the third year of the Early Career Mentoring program through GVSU, which pairs a first-year BCPS teacher with a mentor from GVSU faculty. In addition to weekly meetings between the mentor and mentee, mentees also join a learning community with other first-year teachers, enabling them to problem solve and share best practices. In the 2021-22 school year, 25 GVSU student-teachers were placed in BCPS classrooms and three were offered and accepted teaching positions at BCPS for the 2022-23 year. This local pipeline is especially crucial given the national teacher shortage that has also affected BCPS.

GVSU Summer Programs for Students: Students in GVSU’s College of Education offer summer education camps for students at BCPS. The three camps include SHAPE, a program giving middle school students engaging, hands-on exposure to health professions like physical therapy, lab science and sports medicine; STEPS, a hands-on and high-tech engineering camp where seventh grade girls build and fly radio-controlled model airplanes; and EXCEL, an education-focused camp for rising high school seniors. Over 150 BCPS students registered for GVSU summer camps in summer 2022.

GVSU Full Scholarship Program: GVSU provides four-year, partial and full scholarships for BCPS high school seniors interested in pursuing education, nursing or health professions at GVSU. Through the partnership, 12 BCCHS students were awarded scholarships to attend GVSU in fall 2022, bringing the total to 28 since the start of the transformation.

Marshall Plan for Talent

BCPS received support from GVSU in successfully applying for a state of Michigan Marshall Plan for Talent (MPT) grant, which funds educational initiatives that will help students explore in-demand careers and address the skill gap in Michigan. Out of 30 grant applicants, BCPS was one of 13 groups to be awarded the competitive $842,858 grant in June 2019.

The MPT grant helped fund the construction of a new health care simulation lab at BCPS, which opened during the 2020-21 school year as the only facility of its kind in the region. The lab is a state-approved training site for the certified nurse assistant (CNA) and emergency medical technician (EMT) programs, and contains cutting-edge equipment, technology and supplies. BCPS students above the age of 18 can be fully certified as CNAs or EMTs through the lab while they are in high school, and apply for jobs when they graduate.

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students who participated in GVSU's summer education camps

In the fourth summer of the programs in 2022, 151 students registered for GVSU’s summer education camps.

Community Health Partnerships

In order to help care for each student’s overall well-being, BCPS works closely with local health providers to ensure students have access to physical and mental health care services both within and outside of the school setting.

More than

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high-needs students served by the Bearcat Health team since it was established

Bearcat Health Team

The Bearcat Health Team, established at the beginning of the transformation, is a cross-system collaborative team that meets monthly to discuss and problem solve student and family challenges. Key participants include mental health providers Summit Pointe and STARR Commonwealth, representatives of the juvenile justice system, Battle Creek Police Department, Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Grace Health, Calhoun County Health Department and local charitable and nonprofit partners., In the 2021-22 school year, the Bearcat Health Team provided wraparound services, including mental health services and in-home interventions, for more than 288 high-need students. 

Grace Health In-School Health Centers

Local health provider Grace Health offers student health centers in middle and high school buildings. Centers are staffed with a nurse practitioner, social worker and support staff. The nurse practitioner can serve as students’ primary care provider or offer supportive care services. Centers offer routine well-child exams with immunizations, school and sports physicals, preventative care, urgent care and behavioral/mental health services. Grace Health also offers mobile dentist visits to each elementary and middle school twice a year, and can provide basic six-month checkups and cleanings. The program served 154 students in the 2021-22 school year.

Summit Pointe

A local mental health facility and care provider, Summit Pointe is a close partner of BCPS that provides in-school counseling, wraparound services and intensive crisis intervention. The district also worked closely with Summit Pointe to create its Trauma-Informed Schools Guidebook that includes documents like intake questionnaires and release forms, and creates a seamless continuum of care between in-school, at-home and professional care services. In the 2021-22 school year, the program served 64 students.

Communications

Five years ago, BCPS struggled with a negative reputation in the community. Without proactive communications from BCPS to the community and families, the district’s narrative was shaped by racist stereotypes about schools where a  majority of students are of color, and many community members believed that BCPS schools were unsafe and dirty. 

The district’s approach to communications has fundamentally changed since the transformation began, and the district now communicates proactively to share the many great things happening at BCPS, with frequent updates, video shares and media stories. Increased awareness of the positive opportunities and environments BCPS offers has been critical to support increasing enrollment and attracting local partnerships. 

Communications Support and Increased Communications Capacity

At the start of the transformation, BCPS began receiving support from two marketing and communications agencies, Fenton and Burrell Communications. Fenton worked closely with the district leadership and WKKF communications teams to build the foundation of what communications could look like at BCPS, and Burrell Communications helped to design a campaign for the transformation’s marketing.

In July 2018, BCPS hired its first communications manager, Nate Hunt, who has become an essential player in the narrative change campaign. In fall 2018 BCPS hired a full-time communications manager to improve reputation, morale, language access and transparency.

Enrollment Campaigns

Each year of the transformation, the district’s communications team has launched enrollment campaigns leveraging digital, out-of-home, print advertising and more to encourage positive awareness of BCPS opportunities and enrollment in the district’s schools. During the first three years of the transformation, the campaign centered around a “Believe in the Change” message, encouraging the community to look ahead to all the great things that were on the horizon for the district. In year four, the campaign shifted to highlight the “Bearcat Advantage,” focusing on all the great things the district already has to offer thanks to new programming rolled out during the transformation. 

Across the five years of transformation, BCPS has earned more than 15 million impressions on its digital enrollment ads, promoting 11 priority schools and programs, with the district’s educational options becoming a major draw for families. Many of these communications are available in Spanish and Burmese as well. 

Thanks to communications activities, the district’s reputation within the community continues to improve.  According to Burrell Communications’ 2022 BCPS Brand Tracker Survey, 70% of BCPS families report a favorable opinion of the district, an improvement of 39 percentage points from 2018. Among parents who don’t send their students to BCPS, recall of BCPS communications is up by 33 percentage points from 2018. 78% of parents who did not send their children to BCPS had the impression that BCPS is changing for the better, an increase from 67% last year. Among the same group of parents, 74% had the impression that the district prepares students for college or career, a significant improvement from 54% last year.

New District Website

In early 2020, the district launched a mobile-friendly website to improve engagement and access to information among parents and the community. The new streamlined site, complete with a functioning search feature, interactive calendar and newsfeed, replaced an outdated site with poor user experience, where information was often only accessible within a patchwork of PDF documents. ​​Two years after its launch, the district website has become a hub of information for families: According to the 2022 Brand Tracker, the website is the second-highest ranked communications channel where families hear about changes taking place at BCPS, behind only Facebook posts and advertisements.

Media Relations

At the start of the transformation, conversations with the media were almost entirely reactive and in response to incidents. Today, the district communications manager has developed meaningful relationships with local journalists.

Thanks to communications activities, the district’s reputation within the community continues to improve. The Burrell brand tracker survey found favorability toward the district is high (61%). The brand tracker also found high levels of awareness (74%) of BCPS communications among city parents whose children attend and don’t attend BCPS.

All city parents showed an increase of 11% in favorability toward BCPS from last year’s survey.

  • Community Engagement and Partnerships Intro
  • Parent Engagement
  • Community Economic Partnerships
  • Community Health Partnerships
  • Communications