Year-round school for at-risk girls provides shelter, a strong curriculum and optimism
Nestled in the woods just a few miles from Traverse City is a little-known school making a tremendous difference in the lives of many young women.
The House of Hope is a private Christian boarding school, founded in September 2001, that serves at-risk young girls, ages 12 to 18. The school currently has eight students living and learning on the 40-acre farm estate, which includes a home for the students and school staff, a school building, a barn and a large expanse of woods. Plans are in process to expand the campus to include a gymnasium and dorms for more students.
Many of the school’s students come from abusive situations, enter the school struggling with substance abuse, or have dropped out of traditional schools. The school offers a safe haven for the students, providing counseling, a peaceful and structured living environment, and an excellent personalized curriculum. It offers a learning environment in which students are able to regroup emotionally and continue their education. Most return to traditional schooling after about a year at House of Hope.
The House of Hope idea was launched in 1985 in Orlando, Florida and has been replicated by individuals around the country. When it comes to taking troubled girls and returning them to their families able to go on with their lives and their education, House of Hope boasts a 95 percent success rate.
The majority of the Traverse City House of Hope’s students find the school through word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or family. Sometimes the school serves as an alternative option for students facing time in juvenile detention centers, but most of the students come to House of Hope voluntarily.
House of Hope is funded entirely by private individuals and businesses. Many local businesses donate services, products and labor to help the school continue operation, and the school hosts fundraisers throughout the year to bring in additional money.
This past year, the House of Hope received an unexpected contribution from the local public school bus drivers’ union membership. The members of the union opted to send the portion of their union dues that is normally allocated for their union’s political purposes as charity to House of Hope, a common practice that any public school union member can employ.
House of Hope’s curriculum is personalized for each student. Students complete specialized assessment tests when they arrive to place them in the appropriate level, which is called a “phase.” Completion of multiple phases is required to complete a grade level. The program is designed similar to many home school programs, with students working individually from workbooks and textbooks in subjects such as math, literature, social studies, science, economics, and speech. Electives are also offered, such as business math and life skills. All students participate in job shadowing with visiting community leaders from local businesses and organizations.
Students work with the education director (who is the primary teacher) to establish weekly or monthly goals. As students complete phases of their schooling, they receive awards and are allowed more benefits within the house such as a trip to the store, sleeping in on Saturday, and prizes including facials and CDs.
House of Hope students are in school year-round, which allows those who have dropped out of school to regain lost time and often return to their original grade level by the time they leave House of Hope.
“It’s like home schooling in a sense,” Barb Hutchins, House of Hope’s director of education, told Michigan Education Report. “When we nurture and have high expectations, the students always meet them.”
House of Hope students live in and maintain their home, with the assistance of an evening live-in staff and a daytime staff including the school director, teacher, and a counselor. Students share rooms in a dorm-like setting, and daily chores are divided among them.
The school’s staff members say the structured, residential nature of the program provides a safe haven for students to recapture a sense of stability and focus on their education.
“Just by taking them out of the situations they were in, they grow by leaps and bounds,” Hutchins said.
Students and their families are required to attend regular counseling at the school, and parents are also required to attend weekly parenting classes.
Paula, a 17-year-old student in the program, says the school has made a tremendous difference in her life. After facing the suicide of her brother, Paula had problems with substance abuse and was failing her classes in high school.
House of Hope has provided a stable environment and renewed her interest in learning, she says.
“[This place is] not so much a program, but a family,” Paula explained to Michigan Education Report. “Not only do you get your own individual education, but you get to learn to have healthy relationships. Now I’m motivated and learning so much.”
Paula says the program has also renewed her family, providing parenting skills and building bridges between her family members where there were broken relationships.
“Not only are my parents my guardians, but now they’re also my friends. We’re learning things about each other we never knew. There used to be tension between us; now there’s relief and freedom,” she explained.
Ellie Round, founder and executive director of the program says Paula’s experience is not unique, and the program lives up to its name.
“The hope that they gain here is incredible,” she said.
The House of Hope provides help and a strong education to many troubled teen girls and their families. For more information on the school, visit www.houseofhopetc.com.