School partners to teach ‘real-world skills’

Aug 18, 2014Blog, Impact

by Rachel Weik, Grand Rapids Business Journal

iCademy Global in Zeeland is an online K-12 charter school “where classes are customized for each student.”

An online charter school is partnering with several organizations to teach “real-world skills” to students this fall.

Student Passions

The K-12 iCademy Global in Zeeland said this month that it will add four new “premium electives” to its curriculum for middle and high school students: coding and gaming; engineering and design; classical and contemporary ballet; and textiles and sewing.

The electives are designed to expose students to a hands-on learning experience to develop new skills and real products during weekly four-hour courses.

Each course will be developed and taught by a local organization.

The electives are meant to help develop students’ critical thinking, spatial reasoning, teamwork, problem solving and innovative thinking.

Paul VanderKuyl, iCademy Global leader, said the premium electives will provide students with engaging experiences that connect them to their passions.

“We are connecting with some of Michigan’s most innovative thinkers,” VanderKuyl said. “They’ll be developing a variety of real-world skills they’ll need no matter what professional path they follow.”

The electives are being offered at no cost.

The charter school also offers a physical space for students to gather to collaborate and problem solve at its Learning Café.


Zipper Labs, a makerspace studio in Zeeland, is developing the engineering and design course.

Philip Dirkse, founding director of Zipper Labs, said as a public charter school, iCademy Global has a little bit more flexibility in developing a course to teach math, science and engineering in a non-traditional setting.

Dirkse said the emphasis of the course is to teach design thinking to students — starting with an idea or sketch and ending with a final product.

“It is a chance to work with their hands and think about their world and community from this design perspective,” Dirkse said. “It will connect kids to the world that they are living in and also to empower them to design products or projects in the community that make a lasting impact.”

Students will be able to use equipment provided by Zipper Labs, such as a 3-D printer and CNC machine, to bring their ideas and prototypes to reality.

Defining design thinking as empathy-based problem solving, Dirkse said the course will show students there is a person behind every product used.

The school’s ballet course will be developed by Soli Deo Gloria, the professional dance company of the Turning Pointe School of Dance.

The ballet elective will offer professional-level ballet training for a fine arts academic credit.

“This is another example of how our school frees kids to focus on their passion areas,” VanderKuyl said.

Students enrolled in the ballet elective will have the opportunity to use the dance school’s studio in Holland.

Protégé Game Studios in Lowell, a technology skills development studio for kids and young adults, is developing the coding and gaming course.

UpSewn Kids & Studio in will teach students how fibers and materials behave in various applications in the textiles and sewing course.