During the 2016-17 school year, Allegan community leaders and Allegan Public Schools administrators identified the need to improve communication and support for students as they complete their K-12 education and move forward with their career plans. In response to the identification of the growing need for information and support for students, the “Allegan Advantage” team was established to create a partnership between our schools and our local businesses. The idea, in addition to creating community partnerships, was to increase student engagement in the learning process and provide a clear path to a wide variety of post-secondary options for students.
Two of the founding members of the Allegan Advantage team include City Police Chief Rick Hoyer and Head of Corporate and Social Responsibility for Perrigo Steve Ramus. Representatives for Ropes Course Inc., Community Action of Allegan, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Earley Construction have also joined the group. A complete list of the team members is listed at the end of this article.
Several exciting and productive programs have been developed over the past two years. A partnership with Junior Achievement allowed the Alternative High School to pilot a class with volunteers from Perrigo and Allegan Credit Union. Allegan Advantage is also encouraging participation in “Integrated Education Training (IET) Programs.” This program allows for adults and students in alternative programs to receive training in Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) courses, construction courses, and Certified Production Technician (CPT) courses. Students who complete the programs receive national certifications and job opportunities. Another opportunity for our students is the “Going Pro Pre-Apprenticeship Grant.” This grant allows students in Allegan County to receive paid job training for manufacturing and machining positions. The Allegan County Area Technical and Education Center is taking the lead to match students with employers.
The Allegan Advantage Team has also partnered with Big Brothers and Big Sisters to introduce a “Bigs in Business Mentorship Program.” Bigs in Business has paired Allegan High School and Allegan Alternative High School students with mentors from the Perrigo Company. The “Bigs” and “Littles” meet two times per month for an hour. During these sessions, the Bigs and Littles discuss everything from the students’ present classes, sports, future plans, and simply life in general. Students learn about Perrigo and potential employment opportunities within the company. Students are exposed to the skills required to be successful in the workplace, and they also have a caring adult regularly checking in with them, who is available for guidance and support.
The pilot program of Bigs in Business recently celebrated their first graduate of the program. Recent Allegan Alternative High School graduate, Tyler Davis, was paired with Steve Ramus from Perrigo. Tyler and Steve had an instant connection. Steve, who was a “Little” himself as a child, was thoroughly impressed with Tyler’s attitude, his willingness to learn, and his strong work ethic. Both Steve and Tyler looked forward to their meetings and they were both challenged to think differently. Steve began to view Perrigo through Tyler’s eyes and see things differently. Tyler was challenged to make a life plan, which ultimately resulted in Tyler being hired by Perrigo, where he is presently working full time.
Steve explained, “I got a lot more out of this mentorship than I was expecting. The benefits for both the professionals and students involved are surprising. I was thoroughly impressed with Tyler. He is a great role model for his peers. I encourage his peers to befriend him and follow his example. I will stay part of Tyler’s life long after this mentorship has ended.”
Tyler supports Steve’s comments. “I connected instantly with Steve,” Tyler said. “We are opposites but we just clicked from the very beginning. It was nice to have another positive male role model who was like a father. You can never have enough help and support in life. We formed a friendship that will last forever. I learned how to plan for the future, how to make smarter choices, and how to network. I’m glad I was paired up with such a great mentor.”
As the Bigs in Business mentorship program evolved into its second year, members of the Allegan Advantage Team and students are reflected on the program. Alternative High School Principal Laura Feffer stated, “This Mentorship Program is an example of what can happen when people are willing to dream big and view the youth of the community as its top priority. If the adage is correct that it takes a village to raise a child, then there is no village you’d rather be a part of than Allegan.” Tyler also encourages the continuation of this program, “Allegan Public Schools needs to continue this program,” he said. “It takes kids that deserve a shot, pairs them up with someone who can make a difference, and beautiful things happen.”
Allegan Advantage Steering Committee
- James Antoine, APS Director of Instruction
- Linda Blankenship, Principal ACATEC
- Troy Carns, APS Board Member
- Amy Christman, APS Director of Finance & Operations
- Tracy Clawson, APS Central Office Support/Pupil Accounting
- Laura Feffer, APS Principal Allegan Alternative High School
- Kevin Harness, APS Superintendent
- Dawn Hoyer, APS Teacher/Work Based Learning at Allegan High School
- Rick Hoyer, Chief of Police
- Mary Kasprzyk, APS Board Member
- Molly Kinnison, Human Resources Generalist of Ropes Courses
- Michelle Krcatovich, West Michigan Works
- Jim Mallard, APS Principal Allegan High School
- Erin Markel, Human Resources Generalist of Sky Trail
- Brenda Molendyk, CFO/COO of Allegan Co. Community Action Network
- Brenda Nyhof, APS Director of Allegan Online/Adult Ed
- Steve Ramus, Perrigo Head of Corporate Social Responsibility