Outside the norm

Unique “real-world” elective program at The Grosse Pointe Academy is becoming de rigueur (and fun) for middle-school students.

GPA students in the Technology Education elective class recently visited Digital Image Studios in Farmington Hills.

On March 12, during The Grosse Pointe Academy’s upcoming annual Arts Showcase, middle-school students in the “Glee” elective class will be performing a number of song and dance numbers for other students, parents and friends. According to Didi DeBoer, GPA’s assistant head of school for grades 4-8, it will be yet another example of how well the students are taking to the new electives program.

“The students all talk about how much they love the new classes,” DeBoer said. “All the electives were equally popular when they signed up last summer and everyone got either their first or second choice for each trimester. It all worked really well and the process was very smooth.”

Now deep into the second trimester of the middle-school electives curriculum, students are finding plenty of time to fit the unique course offerings in with their normal academic class schedule.

Students in the middle school (sixth, seventh and eighth grades) each selected one course for each trimester from four different categories: The Arts, Business Exploration, Life Skills and Technology Education. Each course includes one to two field trips off campus that offer students real-world learning opportunities.

Middle-school students in the Fashion and Fabrics elective class cut patterns and sewed together new pants.

The Farm to Table class, which was offered in the first trimester as part of the “Life Skills” elective group, utilizes the GPA Garden Classroom as well as local organic markets to prepare a wide variety of nutritious foods made from scratch. All steps of the cooking process are being taught in this course.

“Farm to Table had a great field trip to Rustic Root in St. Clair Shores in October,” DeBoer said. “They also had terrific guest speakers come in from Mulefoot Gastropub in Imlay City and Farm Field Table butcher shop, which is located in Ferndale. The kids really enjoyed both.”

The Technology Education group of electives features students learning all aspects of Google Suite, coding, app design, and other real-world technological applications. They also produce the school news program, “Academy Weekly,” which gives them experience in the process of filming, editing and finalizing a video that will highlight GPA current events.

DeBoer said students produce Academy News typically every other week. She said course instructor Megan Black has the students learning all about producing a news broadcast just like the pros.

“Other students in the first-trimester Technology Education class got into robotics,” DeBoer said. “A few built Mindstorm Robots and programmed them using Microsoft’s MakeCode, which allows them to go above and beyond the Lego Mindstorm classroom curriculum.”

Among field trips taken by the Business Explorations class were visits to the Village Market and Albatross Embroidery, above, which is located on Mack in Grosse Pointe. More photos below.

This trimester, students are engrossed in architectural design and city planning as part of the electives curriculum. They’ve been using online tools to build and see their designs in virtual reality and a number of students are also exploring sculpting in 3D as well VR surgery and medical research.

“In future class sessions, we hope to develop the students’ podcasting skills as well and take a deeper dive into Google’s apps for education,” said DeBoer.

GPA students involved in the Business Explorations electives program currently are managing the school store on certain days of the week. DeBoer notes that they’re learning all about purchasing, marketing and management of a store.

“They run the store totally themselves and are doing a fantastic job,” she said.

“This trimester, the kids taking our Fashion and Fabrics class appear to be loving to learn how to sew,” she added. “They are all currently working on making pajama pants on our new sewing machines.”

Next trimester, the Academy will again offer Business Explorations, Tech Ed and add Printmaking and Nutrition to the electives offerings.

“Everyone is really looking forward to their new classes,” DeBoer said.

Academy Head of School Tommy Adams wanted to make sure he noted once again that the new electives program has been aided by the generosity of longtime benefactors of GPA.

“We are ever so grateful to the Cotton family for their generous support of these ongoing program-driven facility improvements,” he said. “Our entire school community is beginning to benefit from the new spaces, but particularly our middle school students, whose elective classes will be making increasingly more use of the facilities.”

DeBoer couldn’t agree more.

“The renovations and facility improvements will be transformative as we look to expand our already vibrant elective program,” she said.