Maple Valley Schools superintendent, Michelle Falcon, has been eagerly awaiting news regarding a grant for which she applied through the Michigan Department of Education. The Year-Round School Grant program designates money for facility modifications for schools moving toward balanced calendar (school year calendar that spreads dates for classes and vacation more evenly throughout the year) instructional programs. Since Maple Valley School district has one facility that entertains year-round programs, and has been researching the possibility of a balanced calendar school year model, the district was a prime candidate for the grant.

Falcon heard about the Year-Round School Grant in February of 2017. From what she heard she believed that Maple Valley would have a good chance, but when she read the grant requirements it became clear the district would be all but assured to receive the funding. Maple Valley met all of the requirements of the grant to the tee, according to Falcon. From being a rural school, to exceeding the minimum percentage requirement of students qualified for free or reduced lunch, to having one school with year-round operations, Falcon knew the grant was practically designed for Maple Valley’s needs.

Money from the bond had already run dry, and Falcon was struggling with the knowledge that the elementary schools did not have appropriate climate control. Temperatures in the elementary classrooms can be sweltering during the months of May and August especially. She, along with teachers in the district, knew that students struggled to focus in classrooms that have little to no climate control. Sweat, noisy fans, and indeed, smell, is a vicious combination in a classroom full of young kids.

When it came to applying for the grant Falcon had hoops to jump through, despite the obvious eligibility of the district. To apply, the district had to provide three calendar school years for one facility in the district that would adopt a year-round program. The approval of the year-round calendars and programs required approval from the district’s school board.

Falcon recalled that some of the language in the grant application was very nearly missed during the application process. Maple Valley initially was not approved for the grant, to Falcon’s great surprise. Upon further investigation and some subtle clues from the state, Falcon identified quick ways to improve the application and resubmitted it for an appeals process. Monday May 22, she received official word that the full requested amount of $300,000 was awarded to Maple Valley.

The superintendent could hardly contain her excitement. The opportunity to update the elementary school facilities is invaluable, according to Falcon, especially as the district continues to entertain and research the possibility of a balanced calendar school year for all of the schools. Much of the money from the grant will go directly to installing air conditioning at elementary schools.

Superintendent Falcon would like readers to know that she and other teachers in the district are continuing to research the balanced calendar model school year. She believes the move will likely be made in the next couple of years, but not without the thorough analysis of the benefits and drawbacks. The opportunity to prevent students from losing the momentum they’ve gained in various subjects over the year is the biggest draw to the balanced calendar model. Studies continue to show that a longer summer break causes students to forget much of what they’ve learned the previous school year.

Although many decisions still have to be made to that end, Falcon believes that updates to the school infrastructure are the first step to achieving goals like balanced calendar, and simply having bearable classroom environments for students and staff.