After-school program increases accessibility for students in West Ottawa

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

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

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

Aliyah and her friend Carmella are playing basketball.

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

“It makes me feel good because when I see people playing basketball I’ve always been afraid of it, and I don’t want people to be afraid of it. I want people to start trying it, ”said Carmella, a fifth grader.

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

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

“You want to create a sense of belonging and connection in each individual, so that they feel like part of something bigger than themselves,” Collins said.

Carmella and Aliyah say they are grateful for this opportunity.

“When I do a shot I like when everyone is cheering for me,” Carmella said.

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

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

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