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New billboards aim to recruit Benton Harbor students

NOW: New billboards aim to recruit Benton Harbor students

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- You may start noticing 10 new billboards across Berrien County aiming to recruit students back to Benton Harbor Area Schools.

The district has lost students in recent years to other area schools. But – staying true to their mascot, the Tiger, they’re now asking prospective students to return the roar.

“We’re telling our students to come back roaring, I mean you need to be fired up, you need to be ready to go,” said Dr. Andrae Townsel, Superintendent at Benton Harbor Area Schools.

Dr. Townsel became the new superintendent in February, and despite spending his first few months dealing with a pandemic and distance learning, he says he’s trained for the challenge of turning around a struggling school district.

“I do have a national certification in urban superintendence, I have a doctorate from Howard University in educational leadership and policy studies and I also have a certificate from Harvard University for school turnaround,” said Townsel. “So I’ve done the work, I’ve been in the trenches and now it’s time to put it into action.”

One form of action — those billboards, encouraging students who left the district through Michigan Schools of Choice program to come back home.

The district footing the bill, money Townsel says is well worth it to get even just one student back.

“We lose about 3,000 students to other districts because some families have not been happy with Benton Harbor Area Schools in the past, but our goal is to get that back. We’re talking $24 million going elsewhere,” said Townsel.

And one way schools get more funding — is through the Census.

So, a 2020 St. Joseph High School graduate wrote a song about it and collaborated with Benton Harbor students for a music video.

“Like I mentioned in the song it’s funding for school programs; Medicare, Medicaid, housing. It basically just provides funding -- the more people fill it out, the more funding we get,” said Serenity Burton, the songwriter.

The video even became a finalist in the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Get Out the Count” contest.

Dr. Townsel says he wants students to keep these videos coming and despite being threatened with closure from the state last year, Benton Harbor Schools are here to stay.

“Come back to Benton Harbor Schools,” said Townsel. “We’re vital, we’re here, we’re ready, we’re looking to invest in our young people and we think you’ll be satisfied.”

The Berrien Community Foundation sponsored the production of the music video.

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