Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Pontiac charter school focused on the arts

     In some states, what the Michigan School for the Arts is doing would be called a magnet school. They would also be focusing on high school students instead of the K-8 students that recently started at the school. While many charter schools drain funds from taxpayers and put them into the hands of owners who under pay teachers and provide the bare neccessities, magnet schools focus on on type of curriculum in order to develop students talents.

New Pontiac charter school focused on the arts

A new charter school in Pontiac supported by Oakland University aims to integrate the arts into students’ everyday learning experience.

The Michigan School for the Arts opened in the fall of 2012 on the campus of the former Midwestern Baptist College on Golf Drive, with 350 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school plans to add a grade every year until it offers grades K-12.

As local school districts have cut back on their art programming, “We wanted to offer that to the community and give students an opportunity to be creative and to establish self-esteem through the arts,” said Dr. Carl Byerly, whose Creative Schools Services Inc. founded the school.

When students play music, paint, dance and more, “they learn to love school, and that’s our objective,” Byerly said.

Retired Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester was the master of ceremonies at the school’s Jan. 31 grand opening ceremony.

“This, the Michigan School for the Arts, is to discover through the arts, integrated with language, math and science to become a builder of the empires of the mind,” Mester said.

“Education through the arts makes one alive to the universe in which the student lives, thus opening the windows of the mind.”

The school has a 50-piece orchestra made up of students grades two through eight, as well as a 30-piece band, six choruses and dance classes in every grade level.

The majority of students at the Michigan School for the Arts live in Pontiac, but come from Waterford, Bloomfield, Troy and Auburn Hills as well, Byerly said. Any student who lives in the state of Michigan can apply to the school.

The charter school’s authorizing institution is Oakland University.
“With the opening of the Michigan School for the Arts, we are fulfilling two mega-goals in the School of Education and Human Service by chartering a school that is devoted to the Arts, and, at the same time, utilizing our resources for the citizens of Pontiac,” said Dr. Louis B. Gallien Jr., a dean and professor at the university’s School of Education and Human Services.

“This school is the beginning of these two intertwined goals, and we look forward to a long and beneficial relationship,” Gallien said.

Byerly and Dr. Jackie Wiggins, the chairwoman of the Department of Music, Theater and Dance at Oakland University, worked together to create the school’s curriculum.

Deputy Oakland County Executive Phil Bertolini also was present at the school’s grand opening.

“Oakland County is fortunate to have such a top-notch charter school within our borders,” Bertolini said. “The Michigan School for the Arts provides the necessary formal education for children while focusing on their ability to express themselves in the arts.”

Dan Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said the new school is something to celebrate.

“I congratulate the Michigan School for the Arts on becoming a partner in the development of this community. Dr. Byerly has believed in choice and the arts in education for a long time, and we can now celebrate one new innovative public school and the opportunity it will provide to many students and families in this community,” Quisenberry said.

“I look forward to your success as the parents of this community and Oakland County continue to embrace you.”

Byerly said Creative Schools Services, Inc. plans to open five more schools in Michigan over the next 10 years

California Student Catches Alleged Thief on Camera: A Teacher

California Student Catches Alleged Thief on Camera: A Teacher

   A really disturbing story comes out of California and a teacher will most likely lose her job. The following story comes from GMA.

California Student's Sting Allegedly Catches Teacher StealingABC News Videos 0:00A sophomore conducted an investigation to find who was stealing money from students' backpacks.
     A California high school student was shocked at what she found when she decided to play detective and stop a string of thefts from backpacks during gym class.
Justine Betti said she decided to hide in a locker to see if she could catch the thief in action. She didn’t expect the alleged culprit to be her gym teacher.
After all of the students left the locker room, the teacher stayed behind, rummaged through backpacks and took money, Betti said.
“Something needed to be done. That’s not okay,” she told ABC News’ Sacramento affiliate KXTV. Betti is a sophomore at Linden High School in Linden, Calif., about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.
Betti decided to hide in the locker again — this time, with a cellphone camera to record what she saw. She set up a second camera in another locker to get two angles.
Once again, she said she saw the teacher go through the bags. Her video shows someone digging through the bags, and one video appears to show the person taking something out of a pink duffel bag.
“I didn’t want to believe that she would do something like that because she was so nice, but then she did it,” Betti said. “It was really scary. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I just got this on video.’”
Betti said she kept watching it “over and over” and eventually took the video to her principal with some friends.
“He said that he’ll investigate it and he told us to delete the video, but I had already sent it to my dad,” she said.
The teacher is on administrative leave, according to KXTV. The Linden School District told that it is investigating the matter, but the superintendent did not immediately respond to requests for further information.
The teacher has not been identified, but is a 30-year teaching veteran described as a “great teacher” by many students.
Betti said she struggled with recording and sharing the video, but said classmates have supported her.
“They’ve been supportive and said that we did the right thing,” she said. “We feel like we did the right thing, but it’s still kind of hard.”

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sacred Garden has alternative remedies flu and other ailments

     Many people have had the flu this winter and many more than once. I had a flu shot back in December and have had the flu twice since then. What I did not try was an alternative and at Sacred Garden Healing Arts Center in Birmingham is natural remedies that do not involve flu shots. In the following story and accompanying videos, learn about salt room solutions from the Dead Sea, ion cleansing and a special mat that all have results. The Oakland Press story is below and the interview links are below that.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

College Night at Mott tells students the facts about attending college.

       When Tina Mitchell, a career adviser at Waterford Mott saw students, she thought one way to bridge the gap between what students thought they knew about college and the realities, she knew she could help. Among other things she started a college night that has built up over the last few years and over 30 Michigan colleges and universities counsel high school underclassmen and seniors about the facts before attending a two or  four year school. In this Oakland Press story, high school students and college recruiters tell the facts about what students need to do.

Girls in Science: Robot Garage Combines Robots and Girls  The numbers are staggering. Girls working in STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is only at a national average of 20%. Many girls do not consider the programs as career alternatives and this is a big mistake according to industry professionals. For those parents that put their children in softball, golf and other sports, they find out that their daughters might get a quarter scholarship. That is not the case of robotics programs. Girls that show aptitude in science can earn full scholarships and make a lot more money than those that go into teaching, management and so forth. In a story I have for done for the Oakland Press, the Robot Garage is a Lego based business in Birmingham that caters to students and they took their show on the road to Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills where science day wowed the girls. The story focuses on girls in science using Lego robots using the scientific method. The Robot Garage works with both boys and girls and they find it fun. Smart school districts use the Lego based robots to solve problems in both math and science inquiry. The 2 minute story is below. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oakland County superintendents among top paid in the state

Many superintendents work pretty hard for their salaries. I know that when I worked in Atlanta many supers made far more than the supers here. This especially occurred in districts that were not the most desirable. 

Oakland County superintendents among top paid in the state

Farmington school district’s school superintendent is ranked as having the fourth highest salary among the top school leaders in the states, according to a list of salaries released by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Two Oakland superintendents rank in the top 10 and a total of five are in the top 20 among Michigan’s 606 school districts.

The amounts listed as salaries include a combined total of base salaries plus all fringe benefits that can include health insurance, pension, 401K contribution, retirement contribution, car allowances, annuity and expenses. The size of the district is not always a factor.

Ranking as fourth highest paid superintendent in Michigan, including benefits  such as retirement contribution, is the 11,763-student Farmington Superintendent Susan Zurvalec, with a salary of $277,867.
The other Michigan districts with the highest salaries is Utica at the highest salary of $300,789; the Rockford district at $290,445; the Kalamazoo district at $280,469; and Wayne-Westland district at $273,875.

The Troy school district is among the top 10 statewide with a salary of $273,615. In the top 20 statewide are the Bloomfield Hills district with a $259,763 salary; the South Lyon district at $259,260, and the Birmingham district at $253,396.

"Our district houses programs that do not appear in other districts," explained Shira Good, spokeswoman for the Bloomfield Hills district. " For example, our district houses a few county-wide center programs, has fiscal and physical responsibilities for the International Academy, and maintains both a forty-acre Nature Center and fully operational Farm.

"Our superintendent is more than just the CEO of our school district.  He also serves as the instructional leader and creates the path forward for our entire school community," Good said, Thursday.

Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch is the third highest paid among the state’s intermediate school superintendents, with a salary of $246,183, putting her at 24th in the overall state ranking, according to the Mackinac survey. Kent and Ottawa county intermediate district superintendents recieve higher compensation.

Kent Barnes, superintendent of the 3,600-student Holly school district since the early 1990s, has the distinction of having the lowest total compensation among Oakland County superintendents and is 386th statewide, with a salary of $130,814. This includes his $5,031 for pension or annuity and no other fringe benefits. A handful of other districts show a lower base pay, but fringe benefits bring their pay higher.
“I’ve had the same salary the last four years,” said Barnes, who plans to retire in June.

“I can’t ask people to take a salary reduction or have their salary is remain the same and take a salary increase,” said Barnes, whose district’s Holly High School, was named as one of the two Oakland County high schools noted by the Michigan Department of Education as “Beating the Odds.’’

However, Barnes has no criticism of other superintendents or districts for their higher salaries.

“I’m sure local districts pay their superintendents appropriately for the needs of their job,” he said. “I’ve never begrudged anyone what they made. That is between the board of education and the community.

“I don’t stay at Holly because of the salary,” Barnes said. Besides wanting to do the best for Holly students, Barnes said he also stays, “because I enjoy the community and I enjoy the civic groups I’m in. After I retire in June, my family and I are going to remain here.”

 Frank Reed, board president for Farmington school district,  was not available for comment Wednesday, not did other districts comment.

On Thursday, Markavitch said, "Given the scope, reach and uniqueness of the work done by school superintendents, the salaries paid are well earned. I am proud to be part of this educational community that puts student achievement and community service above all else," said Markavitch, who is superintendent of the intermediate district that serves all 28 of the county’s public districts. 

However, George Ehlert, president of the Oakland Schools Board of Education, said in an Oakland Press report about superintendent salaries last year that he thought the superintendents deserved their compensation.

“It is a tough, tough job to be a superintendent,” Ehlert said. “When you look at the number of issues confronting schools, all the cutbacks, Every district is losing staff at the same time demands and expectations are increasing,” he said.

Ehlert also pointed to Oakland County as being one of the wealthier in the nation with residents having high expectations of their schools and their school district leaders.
Salaries at 10 of the school districts had been frozen as of last year’s report on superintendents. And most of the 11 new superintendents hired in the past year made considerably less than their long-time predecessors.

Michael Van Beek, director of education policy for the Mackinac Center, said, “While compensation for superintendents only amounts to about 1 percent of public school spending, the public should have easy access to this particular information.

“As CEO of districts and often the highest paid government employee in a local community, superintendent pay deserves an extra level of public scrutiny.”

Also, Van Beek added, “Taxpayers deserve to know what kind of value they’re getting out of publicly funded schools and that includes everything from the superintendent on down.”

Superintendent compensation in other Oakland County districts as reported in the new data base include: Southfield $238,062; Rochester $235,679; Avondale $234,656; Novi $233,128; Berkley $232,049; West Bloomfield $230,798; Lamphere $226,675; Royal Oak $2220,432; Walled Lake $220,352; Ferndale $217,143; Waterford $213,577; Clarkston $206,941; Huron Valley $203,068; Oxford $199,70; Clarenceville $187,140; Oak Park $184,567; Lake Orion $169,017; Madison $159,462; Clawson $146,000; Hazel Park $139,079; and Holly $130,814. New Pontiac Superintendent Brian Dougherty’s salary was not listed. But a previous report indicated he has a base salary of $145,000 plus $500 in expenses and the incentive of a $5,000-401K contribution and a merit amount based on performance.

Brandon Superintendent Lorraine McMahon said her compensation, listed as $170,943 in the Mackinac Center data bank is incorrect. It should be listed as about $140,000, McMahon said, because she does not get retirement contribution of $24,452 listed by the center and her insurance is $5,500, not $12,591 as listed.

The Mackinac Center’s new online database that is available to the public, provides detailed compensation data for every conventional and intermediate school district superintendent contract, union contract, district-level funding and spending statistics and an apples-to-apples high school achievement database that adjusts test score results based on socioeconomic factors.

The superintendent compensation database can be found at

Contact Diana Dillaber Murray at 248-745-4638 or or follow her on Twitter at @DDillybar

Windsor teachers get revenge on students and could be out of a job

     In a story that shows teachers can have pretty poor judgement, getting revenge on students could leave faculty looking for a job. If you catch students in the act of poor judgement, getting revenge instead of talking to administrators is a poor idea. These Windsor teachers did this to themselves.
By: Tom Wait- Video story below
(WXYZ) - Cruel prank, or funny joke? Teachers at a school in Windsor told their 8 th grade students they were going on a trip to Disney World.
Days later they told the students it was all a joke.
Parents and students at Rosedale in south Windsor are not laughing – and neither is the district.
Officials are calling the stunt a big mistake and that it showed “extremely poor judgment.”
District officials and parents tell us the prank started after students were snooping through a teacher’s desk and found Disney brochures. Apparently thinking it was time to teach the kids a lesson the teachers came up with the nasty prank.
Parents of the students affected say their kids were shown a presentation and even were told about boarding arrangements.
Last Friday the kids left thinking they were going on a trip to Orlando. After coming back to class this week after a long holiday weekend they got the bad news.
Officials with the Greater Essex County School Board are not commenting on whether any of the teachers involved are being punished because the situation is a closed personnel matter.

Read more:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oxford Students write app on bully prevention

     In a video published in the Oakland Press (not by me) a couple of stories coming from the Oxford student body.
Oxford Bully student challenge day

Teachers and Union donate 12k to Pontiac School Children for school supplies

Michigan teachers donate supplies to Pontiac schools

Pontiac schools’ faculty members are elated with the support they received from fellow teachers across Michigan, who donated $12,000 in cash and gift cards and a truckload of supplies for classrooms in the struggling district.

Teachers picked up their supplies at the United Auto Workers Local 653 building in Pontiac where they were delivered Saturday after a campaign organized by the Michigan Education Association.

“I have been overwhelmed with the generosity of teachers and support staff across the state,” said Aimee McKeever, president of the Pontiac teachers union.

“It is sad that cuts have put us in this situation,” said McKeever, referring to the district’s $26 million deficit, which she blames, in part, on previous administrators.
The $12,000 in gifts will be used to purchase what other supplies teachers need and to ensure there is paper and toner available the six schools that have a working copy machine, she said.

Teachers who don’t have access to a copy machine will continue to be welcome to use the equipment at the MEA offices in Bloomfield Hills, McKeever said.

“Words cannot express my appreciation for these desperately needed classroom supplies.”

Cynthia Rush, a teacher at Pontiac’s WHRC Elementary and a PEA member, said: “It is very heartwarming that so many people have donated so much for our district despite our economic situation.”

Whitman Elementary School teacher Linda Puas added: “This is so sad and yet so heartwarming. You really feel not alone.”

Doug Pratt, MEA spokesman said in a press release Monday: “Since the beginning of the school year, Pontiac teachers have been paying out of pocket for learning essentials that the school district cannot afford — paper, writing utensils, copying supplies and more.
“These out-of-pocket expenses come at a time when staff in Pontiac, like many school employees across the state, have experienced severe wage and benefit reductions, while paying significantly more for their retirement benefits,” Pratt said.

Donations also came from other supporters, such the local UAW and its president, Michael Warchuck, which donated the hall and $900, and the UAW International for collecting the donations and providing a trailer to transport the supplies.

Others that donated included Wally Edgar of Wally Edgar Chevrolet Dealership; the Troy Education Association — teacher volunteers and $2,000; and Staples and manager Travis Jones.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and school employees help do that job every day,” said MEA Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trainor said.

“By making these generous contributions, teachers and support staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure Pontiac kids have the basic supplies they need in their classrooms.

“But supply drives and donations can only go so far. Our state’s elected leaders must do their part and adequately fund our kids’ schools, so that every Michigan child can get the good education they need and deserve,” said Trainor.

In 2011-12, public education in Michigan suffered a $1 billion cut in funding, equating to a $470 reduction in per pupil spending — “all to help pay for a $1.8 billion tax break for corporate special interests pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican legislative allies,” said Pratt in the news release.

Contact staff writer Diana Dillaber Murray at 248-745-4638 or

Oakland Elementary School in Royal Oak puts iPads in all classrooms

Oakland Elementary School in Royal Oak puts iPads in all classrooms

ROYAL OAK — Mobile devices usually are discouraged — even taken — from students in classrooms, but not Oakland Elementary School.

The PTA, teachers and district officials pooled their money to buy 38 iPads for $15,000, making Oakland the first public school in Royal Oak to put electronic tablets into every classroom.

Other elementary schools will follow.

“The future really is tablet-based and our students need to get acclimated,” said Oakland Principal Gary van Staveren, who went with staff to visit schools in Utica and Troy that are using the technology.
The learning possibilities put at the fingertips of children are endless with educational applications that are interactive, three-dimensional, loaded with visuals like videos and high-definition maps, and just plain fun.

“I think these hand-held devices are going to increase motivation to learn and maybe even come to school,” van Staveren said.

Oakland teachers have “appy hours” after school to share what they are finding on the Internet to reinforce lessons in math, reading and writing. The school is focusing on these subjects first.

“The teachers have autonomy to see what works” van Staveren said, adding that the iPads are being used to supplement not replace instruction.

However, he isn’t so sure about the future of textbooks, which he thinks could be on the verge of a phase-out period in as little as five years.

Classic literature, best-selling books, ancient history, historical documents, math drills, quizzes — there are tens of thousands of apps for that and more.
The Oakland PTA and staff raised $11,000 of the $15,000 in the last two years through charity poker benefits and pie and entertainment book sales to buy three iPad 2s for every class.

The students, even kindergartners, are using the 16-gigabyte devices. For some, it’s their introduction to technology. They don’t have computers or access to the Internet at home, van Staveren said. He was concerned about the digital divide between classmates as well as Royal Oak students overall competing in the future for college scholarships and job openings.

“This started because I believe technology gaps exacerbate achievement gaps,” van Staveren said.

In addition to the iPads, the wireless access system at Oakland is being expanded, and each classroom is being equipped with ceiling-mounted projectors and Apple TV receivers. Headphones and protective covers are being purchased for each iPad so students can work on customized digital lessons without bothering each other.

The devices can be used to match the needs of each student with individualized learning activities, van Staveren said.

Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said the district has spent a lot of money — about $2.1 million in the last year — on repairs at the 89-year-old school and it’s time to move forward with instructional technology.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Oakview Middle School students counter 'hate list' with anonymous posters

In an education story that has to warm everyone's heart, four girls from Oakview Middle were the talk of the school of putting up positive affirmations in the school bathrooms. This occurred after some mean messages were previously put in some of the bathrooms and the girls used the same concept people use when selling a car or even a puppy. Instead of phone numbers, they used positive messages. Their story is below.

Oakview Middle School students counter 'hate list' with anonymous posters WITH VIDEO

After a “hate list” was written in the girl’s bathroom at Oakview Middle School, four students decided they wanted to do something to make the girls feel good about themselves instead.

The eighth graders went to school almost an hour early and hung posters in every girls’ bathroom and locker room in the Oakland Township school. At a sleepover, the girls made 16 neon colored posters with the words “Take what you need” on top. The poster was set up like a “For sale” sign with tabs across the bottom that girls could rip off. On the tabs were written words such as love, hope, strength, courage, understanding, loyalty and patience.

Afterward, the entire school was talking about these posters. By the end of the day, all 160 of the tabs were gone. The middle school girls would meet in the hallways, talking about the word they took and wondering who put these posters up in the bathrooms.

And these four girls, while trying to keep a straight face, kept the secret — wanting to remain anonymous.

That was until one of their parents called The Oakland Press, wanting to recognize the four girls for what they did. And, on Thursday afternoon, the four friends — Abbie Wise, Isabella Griesser, Courtney Kohlstedt and Abbey Burk — were surprised at their school.

Griesser said, “We weren’t looking for extra attention for what we did.”

Wise said this project has brought the four of them closer together. She said, in between her classes, she would go to the bathroom to see what girls were saying. Girls would say, “This made my day. I wonder who did this. I hope they do it again.”

And Wise just pretended she had no idea.

“It was amazing seeing people walking around with it in their hands,” she said. 
The girls said they want to do something like this every month.

“We were going to put sticky notes on the mirrors, like ‘You’re beautiful’ and ‘You’re smart,’” said Kohlstedt. “Not every girl, everyday, has a guy tell her she’s beautiful or someone to tell her she’s beautiful. Sometimes, all you have to do is read it or know you are, even if nobody tells you.”

Kohlstedt said several of her friends have had notes shoved into the top of their lockers with the words, “You’re ugly” or “You’re fat” written inside.

Burk said a lot of girls in their class think that beauty is the only thing that matters.

“Everyone is unique in their own way. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. You don’t have to fit in with everybody else. And sometimes you just need to have someone tell you,” Burk said.

Oakville Vice Principal Sarah Perry said there have been mean messages written on the bathroom walls this year directly targeting individual girls. She said she knows how badly this hurts.

“When kids told me, ‘Did you hear about what’s going on in the bathroom?’ My first reaction was, ‘Uh-oh.’ I feel an obligation to take care of the kids, and I know the whole staff feels that way,” said Perry. “But to hear something good, it was not just a sigh of relief, but goosebumps. And to hear the reactions of students, it brought tears to my eyes how excited the kids were to take those positive messages.”

Perry said she is so proud of the girls, and she hopes this will inspire others to do something similar.

“They just came in early and watched the reactions. They didn’t want any credit for it. They just wanted to make other people happy and put other people first,” she said. “The best part of it is they did it even when no one was watching.”

Contact Monica Drake at 248-745-4687 or email her at Find her on Twitter at monica_adele.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Teachers' Facebook campaign raises $12,000 to help deaf student further education

Teachers' Facebook campaign raises $12,000 to help deaf student further education

February 11, 2013  |  
     When Adela Garcia moved to Pullman in western Michigan, she was 10, deaf from birth and had never seen American Sign Language.
To communicate in her Spanish-speaking world, she used gestures and a sign language that only her family understood. Eleven years later, Garcia, 21, has a 3.8 grade point average and a letter of admission to Gallaudet University, the world's only liberal arts college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. She's in Washington, D.C., at the university's English Language Institute, honing her English so she can tackle her freshman year of classes. But staying in school has been one challenge after another.
Days before the spring semester started, Garcia lost the grant that was supposed to pay for her English classes. She told the Free Press through an interpreter that she was disappointed, but determined to stay positive.
Back in Michigan, her teachers in the Van Buren Intermediate School District were stunned -- they said coming back to Pullman would mean fewer post-high school opportunities. So, in the span of two weeks in January, Garcia's teachers turned to Facebook and raised more than $12,000 to make up for the grant and get her into that spring semester.
On Jan. 25, the last day her fees could be paid, Garcia learned she could attend her spring semester English classes. That day, she posted a video message that was captioned to the people on Facebook who helped her stay in school. "Hello, I'm here in class," she signed, smiling broadly, with subtitles below. "Finally for raised money for college. Thank you so much to everyone. Love you all."
One of Garcia's first teachers, Amy Fleischmann, said the young woman is not only the first person in her family to go to college, but the first to graduate from the district's program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Lawrence. She teared up as she described why she and Garcia's other teachers turned to friends and strangers to help pay for their student's future.
"We see such potential in her and we know she can do it," said Fleishmann, "There's not opportunity for her here. She's paving the way."

Starting at square one

On Garcia's first day of school, Fleishmann and her other teachers were challenged -- the little girl had spent several years in Mexican schools with no services for deaf people. She not only had to learn American Sign Language (ASL) to take any course from math to history, but she also had to learn English, upon which ASL was based.
"We pretty much started at square one," said Fleischmann, now a teacher consultant with the Van Buren Intermediate School District.
Garcia, who was born in Washington, moved to Mexico with her mother when she was very young. After returning to Michigan,
she was eager to learn. Through things like cooking and scrapbooking, she started learning English words and the signs that went with them. But every night, she went home to Spanish. To keep English fresh in her mind, she said, she watched television with closed captioning on. She studied in the evenings. And, slowly, English began to click.
"The first year of school, I did not understand anything," said Garcia in sign language. "Once I learned how to communicate and express myself, it really skyrocketed."

Broadening horizons

There isn't a lot to do in Pullman, said Garcia. The unincorporated community is in Lee Township, about halfway between Allegan and South Haven.
It's a one-intersection settlement, said Allegan County Clerk Joyce Watts, and in the most agriculturally-rich county in Michigan, Garcia's area is an exception. "Lee Township has some of the most beautiful lakes," said Watts, "but it's clay. It's not good farmland."
Yet the area is attractive to both poor and rich people, because of nearly nonexistent property taxes and building codes. Chicago retirees live next to lifelong Pullmanites who live next to farm workers in an area that lacks a centralized water system.
"You have very marginal dwellings and very beautiful homes," Watts said.
Garcia said for fun, kids play in the woods and go to the mall. But not many kids from her area go to college, and with limited options in Pullman as a deaf person, her teachers decided it was time to expand her horizons.
An opportunity came to visit Gallaudet during her junior year, and Garcia and four others in the program for deaf students raised the money to hop a plane to the nation's capital. She wasn't sure what Washington, D.C., was going to be like, but she was ready for the chance to explore.
At Gallaudet, Garcia was entranced. She said everywhere she went, hands were flying, and in the gestures, she could understand what was going on.
"I walked in and was like, there were so many deaf people signing -- the teachers, the students -- it was a dream come true," she said.
Fleischmann said the visit was a one-of-a-kind experience for the students.
"It opened the student's eyes to options outside of our small town," she said. "The kids were able to go to Subway and order their sandwiches because everyone signed."
And Garcia was hooked. Back in Pullman, she continued to study, baby-sitting her nieces and nephews while her older siblings worked. In her senior year, she applied for undergraduate admission with the goal of studying graphic art and design. She was accepted, but conditionally. Her English still wasn't strong enough to do college work, the university said, despite the strides she'd made. To get to that level of English proficiency, she needed more English classes and decided to enroll in Gallaudet's English Language Institute. At the end of the summer, she bid Michigan farewell and moved into a dorm in Washington, D.C., to study English all day, nearly every day.

Overcoming obstacles

Gallaudet's English Language Institute has five levels of study students go through to master English, said Ali Sanjabi, a operations staff member at the school. Garcia tested at Level Three and must pass Level Five to have the best chances of scoring well on the ACT and Gallaudet's proficiency exams.
Students take anywhere from one semester to three years to master enough English and American Sign Language to be able to do college work, Sanjabi said. Garcia said she hoped to be done in two semesters and finished her first in December, going from Level Three to Level Four. That's when she lost the funding.
Fleischmann said the vocational agency that gave her the grant didn't feel she was progressing fast enough, even though she was only one level from proficiency as the spring semester started.
"It was like the rug was pulled out from under her. It was just obstacle after obstacle," said Fleischmann.
She and Rebecca Sidders, another teacher, said they couldn't let Garcia come home. So the women reached out to everyone they knew on Facebook. They shared her story and encouraged her to post to the page. The money started coming in.
One of her donors was Jacqueline Deneau, 62, of Hartford. After seeing Garcia's video in her Facebook feed, she decided to donate to the young woman, even though she didn't know her.
"This girl is trying so hard to get educated," said Deneau. "I just had compassion for what she's gone through."
As they reached the $10,000 mark with just a day or two spare, there was another setback. The grant had been pulled before all her fall payments had been made. In addition to the $10,000 for spring tuition, there was suddenly a bill for $2,000 more in fall payments.
Sidders and Fleischmann made one final plea, and people from Michigan to Oregon and everywhere between pitched in.
Garcia's last bill was paid. She went to class and her teachers were able to relax. Garcia, their first graduate, was back to learning and living in a world she has made so much bigger than those few hand gestures from when she was 10.
"She's had to adapt so much," said Fleischmann. "It was a little overwhelming. For her to be -- 11 years later -- college bound, is really amazing."
Contact Megha Satyanarayana: 313-222-8767 or