Antonia, 13, and Mario, 14, attend school each day. But their school is part of Harderwyk Ministries, a Christian Reformed church in Holland, Mich.
Both students received long-term suspensions from the local public middle school due to fighting and cannot return for the remainder of the school year.
So Mario and Antonia are finishing the school year in the Alternative Suspension Program.
The program is for suspended students in grades six to nine. It is run by Neighbors Plus, a community development program that is part of Harderwyk Ministries.
Staff members Angela Stegenga and Mark Haskin help Antonia and Mario with their math.
Director Karen DeMaagd said the need for the program became apparent four years ago. “We wanted to intervene and work on schoolwork, behavior, and have students see the world beyond their own,” she said.
The program’s annual budget of $22,500 is raised by Neighbors Plus and covers four staff members. Three students are currently enrolled in the program, which can accommodate up to six students.
DeMaagd said the school includes core subjects, physical activities, and community service in which the students volunteer at an addiction-recovery center, a senior center, the public library, and the Harderwyk church office.
Staff member Angela Stegenga said is it difficult knowing a student has “so much going on outside these four walls—that’s why we’re here.”
Mark Haskin, also a staff member, added, “Once you realize what kind of lives they have outside of school, you realize why school isn’t a priority. We talk a lot about making choices.”
Mario likes the program. “I don’t get into as much trouble here, and I get my work done. I learned that if I try hard enough, I can do it.”
Antonia said she misses her friend, but added, “I tell them it’s cool, and classes are in one room and you can choose the order of the subjects.
“There are better things to do than getting in trouble,” she said.