Letter: Pay more attention to early learners



As an educator with more than 25 years in public school teaching and administration, your recent editorial (“Thinking outside the box is essential to solving worker shortage,” Aug. 20) gave me pause.

As principal of San Juan Diego Academy, I can assure you we are successfully preparing our students for a world of technology, science, manufacturing, mathematics and engineering — and we aren’t doing this in high school; we are reaching our students as early as 5 years old.

And that is the secret to our success and to the future economic success of this great state.

We must pay more attention to our early learners — children in grades K-8. These are the years when a love for learning is embraced or rejected when the wide world of career choice is still open and within grasp. Young as they are, this is when children decide to excel or subscribe to mediocrity, and it is the time when they still can be more influenced by teachers and parents over peers.

SJDA is a K-8 Catholic school serving an entirely Latino population in the Godfrey-Lee corridor of southwest Grand Rapids. Opened in 2010, we have seen our children — who grew up in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the area — consistently outperform local charter and public schools in reading, math and writing on standardized tests. But more importantly, we are now seeing our alumni go on to study mechanical engineering at Hope College, health sciences at Western Michigan University and actuarial science at Aquinas College.

Nearly one-third of Michigan’s Latinos never graduate from high school, so when we see 100 percent of our students graduate from our primary school and move on to study college preparatory and trade skills, we know that we are bucking an embedded trend that hurts our state and its employers.

How do we accomplish this? For one thing, we are starting early. We aren’t waiting until they are in high school to load them up with pressure to perform. We lay a solid foundation from kindergarten with high expectations, daily affirmation, a college-bound emphasis, targeted intervention in reading, a small school size, high-quality instruction supported by professional development and a true belief on the part of these teachers that our children can succeed. We also have an absence of bureaucratic autocracy in the “central office,” state and federal levels, which contributes significantly to the misdirection and changing targets public schools must meet.

With the tremendous support of the entire community, San Juan Diego Academy has built a school that practices innovative and intense instruction that includes science fairs, college visits, advanced robotics, career days and visits to local manufacturers, such as Lacks Industries.

Every day, at our daily assembly, the children all shout together, “Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!). And, so they do!

With so much bad news regarding our emerging workforce, I am confident San Juan Diego Academy is building a better future for Michigan. We invite our local business leaders to visit us this school year to learn more about how demanding the best from students at a very young age and employing best practices creates a better world for us all. Si, se puede!

Rick Muniz
San Juan Diego Academy

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