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Harper Woods

Café-style learning area helps students succeed

Benchmark Café continues to grow through renovations, student use

January 25, 2013

HARPER WOODS — District officials are pretty proud of the Benchmark Café, a college-style learning area where students can work toward meeting educational skills that are proving challenging, but officials are even more excited about the student learning that took place in what they called the Christmas Café.

When high school students across the state were playing video games and hanging out with their friends, a number of students in Harper Woods were also hanging out with their friends, but they were learning. They came to school.

“We had an overwhelming response,” secondary school Principal Thomas Parker said.

“I’m extremely proud to report that we had 150 students who took advantage of that opportunity,” Parker said.

Some of the students were struggling to meet academic benchmarks and attending the Christmas Café helped them boost their grades in math. Others, who were already passing their classes, came for an opportunity to boost their grades even more, Parker said.  

“Thirty-seven students previously not passing math (are) now receiving passing grades, just because they attended Christmas Café,” Parker said. “We’re proud of our students and that investment.”

Board members commented on the success of the program over Christmas break during a Jan. 22 meeting.

“It was a great idea, and the proof is in the pudding,” board President Brian Selburn said.

Board Vice President David Kien noted that there are about 500 students at the high school, so 150 is a notable portion.

“That says a lot, and it was great to be able to provide that opportunity for them,” Kien said.

The high school launched the Benchmark Café — where students come before, during and after school for tutoring — last year, but that program continues to grow with renovations under way.

Students can have material taught again and retake quizzes until they gain success.

“We make every step necessary to ensure that they’re coming in and investing that time,” Parker said.

The goal of the café and its renovations is to make a college campus-style atmosphere, like a student center.

They’ve had a lot of help making this dream a reality through generous assistance from the United Way and the GM Foundation. 

Volunteers came out to help with renovations during Make a Difference Day last fall, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the United Way, according to information on the district’s website.

“They’re helping us to really transition the Benchmark Café,” Parker said.

Additional enhancements were taking place this month.

“It’s a café,” he said, adding that they are planning a snack area. “We have a rug. We have couches.”

Annette Grays, director of high school success for the United Way, credited leaders like Parker for this type of successful program.

“You get that from very passionate leaders,” she said. “Thomas is certainly one who helps to set that pace.”

She wants to see the space become an inviting one, per the vision that Parker has for the students.

“We wanted students to know that there’s a space, not punitive, not punishment, but a space that inspires learning,” Grays said, adding that it will be “the space to be.”

Christmas Café isn’t the end of the special opportunities to use the Benchmark Café space during a break. Parker joked that the next program might just be called the Bunny Hop.

He credited the students and staff for the success of the program.

“The dedication that our students and staff have is phenomenal,” Parker said.

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