Forum held as Benton Harbor Area Schools apply for grant

A $2 million grant could be coming to Benton Harbor Area Schools, and the superintendent is asking families for advice as she finalizes the paperwork.

“I think the voice of the parent is critical,” Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker said.

So Dr. Walker hosted a public forum Thursday afternoon to hear from parents about a potential helping hand.

“The grant will allow us to take a really good opportunity for kids and make it even better,” Dr. Walker said.

The $2 million Michigan Department of Education grant the district is applying for will focus on security and gang prevention.

Dr. Walker said the district is not unsafe, but there are some areas that can be improved.

“What we don’t have are the structures and those tools that allow us to help properly engage our children all the time or move them from place to place all the time,” she said.

A list of ideas drafted by school officials states the many ways the funding could be used – new security cameras, updated school entrances, new programming to help students stay out of trouble, and more.

“I definitely think the grant would be a great addition,” Marlene Mitchell, a Benton Harbor Area Schools alum whose three children graduated from the high school, said at Thursday’s forum. “This may be a new way for us to get new, modern equipment that will help everyone; that will make everyone feel safe.”

Mitchell, whose granddaughter is currently a senior at Benton Harbor High School, added: “I feel that our kids have so much more to offer. They deserve so much more than what they’re getting. I think that this [grant] will help us to get on the road to doing some better things for our kids and parents.”

Dr. Walker said the forum was one of many new ways she’s hoping to connect with the families she serves as superintendent.

“People know they have a voice,” Dr. Walker said. “They know they’re being listened to. And…they know we have a lot of work to do, but I’m not above that work; I’m not expecting them to figure it out; I’m right in there with them.”

Dr. Walker said the grant money would also help grow a new ‘daytime intervention center’ she has started, which is aimed at getting students, who find themselves in trouble a lot, help early.

The grant application will be submitted next week, and if it’s approved, Dr. Walker said she can address what she calls a desperate need for more hands-on counseling. 

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