More Than a School, it’s the Whole Package at River Heights Academy

Among Flat Rock area elementary schools, River Heights Academy offers plenty of extracurricular activities that give students the opportunity to grow and thrive.

Parents know that when kids are excited about school, they’re happier and more eager to get up and out of the house each morning. Teachers know that happy kids are more excited to learn and be invested in their education. That’s why, among Flat Rock area elementary schools, River Heights Academy offers plenty of “extras” for students and their families to enjoy.

“River Heights is small, and everyone knows everyone else. We enjoy the feeling of strong relationships within our community,” says Rachel DiGregorio, Dean of Students at River Heights Academy (RHA), a tuition-free PreK-8 charter school in Flat Rock.

Parents can trust that in addition to getting a great education with personalized instruction, their child has opportunities to learn and grow, physically and emotionally, through extracurricular activities.

“A student might excel in math or English Language Arts, but what about those who enjoy physical activity or art? When children can engage in what they love, they feel confident about everything else that’s going on in the school,” DiGregorio explains.

Parents expect their child’s school to offer a variety of extra activities for their children, says DiGregorio. “They know that these kinds of activities create opportunities for their children when they move into older grades, high school and college. This involvement teaches them important skills and grows their interests. Parents want their kids to be more prepared when they go to high school, and extracurricular activities prepare them for that next step,” she says.

Innovative extra programming

Not every family can fit an after-school program into their schedule, so last school year, educators at River Heights Academy launched Individualized Personal Interest Clubs (IPIC), an extracurricular program held during the school day.

“We asked teachers to choose an area of interest they might like to lead, and students could pick from these different offerings,” DiGregorio says. As a result, each week, grades K-3 and 4-8 attended their selected IPIC club for a 50-minute block to, among other opportunities, learn American Sign Language, sports and movement, art, STEM, community service, or Girls on the Run, a popular running club for middle school-aged girls.

“The kids loved it, and looked forward to it each week, and teachers had time to engage with something of interest for them, too,” she says, adding that RHA’s IPIC clubs gave teachers the chance to build relationships with students outside of their typical teaching age group.

The program was so successful that this fall, River Heights Academy will launch IPIC clubs at the beginning of the school year and the school hopes to host three different six-week sessions.

“First and foremost, our interest clubs build confidence in our students. Especially if they struggle in ELA or math, their self-esteem goes down, and they have a negative connection associated with school,” DiGregorio says about the value of River Heights Academy interest clubs.

The innovative IPIC clubs are just one of several child-centered offerings at River Heights Academy, and, similar to River Heights Academy’s personalized instruction, IPIC clubs provide students with unique opportunities for whole-child growth.

Summer fun learning, too

Summer learning opportunities also give students at River Heights Academy the chance to build skills and make friends, says Lauren Hollier, Regional Enrollment and Engagement Director with Distinctive Schools, RHA’s educational support organization.

In addition to gaining extra academic support and preparing for the next school year, students could choose to learn robotics and coding through a program called Code313. They could also participate in a literacy-based STEAM program called Reeword Books. “Kids really enjoy these programs, because they are creative,” Hollier says. “They could read or be read to by older students, then have the opportunity to make something fun and artistic, but also connected to science. It challenges them in a variety of ways.”

“Hidden in all the fun is an amazing opportunity to try new things and build skills for the future,” Hollier says.

Plans are also in the works for a robust after-school program, and sports are a big draw.

“We’re building on the IPIC clubs to pilot programming that students and parents are interested in having. The running club got kids excited, and parents want their kids to be more active coming out of the pandemic,” Hollier explains. “We’re seeking partnerships to offer students the opportunity to condition and train. So many of our kids are interested in sports-related activities, but want to learn more about what they need to do before they participate, so they can do it well. We’re working hard to connect them to training sources to help prepare them for being part of sports activities.”

Building opportunities, trust and convenience

When your local school can provide whole-child support, from personalized academic learning to a variety of accessible activities, families build trust that the school also provides a caring environment for their child year-round.

“Your school should help both students and parents as a collective, a one-stop-shop where the child can learn, grow and achieve through a growth mindset — and then advocate for what they want to learn and what direction they want to go,” Hollier says, adding that in the same way that River Heights Academy provides breakfast and lunch so kids’ brains are ready to learn, the school also feeds each child’s need to expand their skills. “We’re all about removing the barrier of access and allowing kids to try something new.”

When convenience is part of the whole package, all the better. “We recognize how convenience plays a role in the decisions families make, so if a parent has five children between the ages of 4 and 13, they have the choice to either take them to three different public schools, or to one charter school location, one stop,” says Hollier.

Bring the whole family!

And, because school should be a welcoming place for the whole family, River Heights Academy creates enjoyable family events based on feedback directly from parents. “Parents want movie nights and Frozen-themed events. They want food and bounce houses. They want a safe place where they are able to bring the whole family for no-cost fun,” Hollier says.

So, in addition to connecting with families through typical activities like parent-teacher conferences, River Heights Academy creates fun family events that provide an opportunity for all community members to get to know each other better — and for parents to build important relationships with teachers and administrators who are invested in helping their children succeed and grow.

“Trust is the foundation for everything, and having that common understanding helps parents trust that their child is in a safe space — and is well taken care of in a loving manner,” she says.   “Staff members communicate regularly with families, and this open and timely communication helps build that trust.”

Learn more about River Heights Academy, a tuition-free PreK-8 charter school in Flat Rock. Visit riverheightsacademy.org.

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