After-school program increases accessibility for West Ottawa students

Ottawa County

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A new program at West Ottawa Public Schools in Holland is working to make sure every student feels like they belong.

Panther Pathways is an after-school program that specializes in STEM, arts and sports at five of the district’s elementary schools. It aims to give students access to opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, showing them that anything is possible.

“Sometimes I just do the same things over, and I want to try to do something that I’ve never really done before,” said Aliyah, a fourth-grader at Great Lakes Elementary School.

Aliyah and her friend Carmella play basketball.

“I like my coach because he teaches us a lot of things,” said Aliyah.

“It makes me feel great because when I see people play basketball, I was always scared of it, and I don’t want people to be scared of it. I want people to start trying it,” said Carmella, a fifth-grader.

“They really are driving for access and opportunity for all students,” said Pat Collins, the director of student and family engagement for West Ottawa Public Schools.

Collins says the purpose of the program is to help students find their passions early on.

“You want to build a sense of belonging and connectedness in every individual, so they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” said Collins.

Carmella and Aliyah say they are grateful for the opportunity.

“When I make a shot, I like when everyone’s cheering,” said Carmella.

“I feel great because they just see me as a role model in basketball and I really like that,” said Aliyah.

Panther Pathways takes place four days a week: Monday through Thursday. District officials plan to continue it into next year.

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