graduation

What Does It Take To Make A Great Teacher?

November 13, 2015 – What does it take to make a great teacher? An expert group of educators, policymakers and others had been working for quite some time to answer that question and came up with a better, more consistent system in Michigan for making sure that our teaching force is the best it can be, for our most advantaged and most challenged students alike. One of the takeaways from that process demonstrated in the teacher evaluation legislation recently signed by the Governor is that better training and support is necessary so that teachers can use their talents to the best of their abilities.

What supports a great teacher? Certainly the ability to have time in the classroom to use what they have spent years learning – to help students build knowledge and skills. For some, that is in specific topic areas; for some, that is about fostering and supporting a love of learning for younger kids; for some, it is about getting kids who are struggling back on track; and for some it is about making sure we continue to challenge the imagination and creativity of those who excel. Not surprisingly, teachers report that they can better utilize their skills when kids come to school ready to learn. Unfortunately, there are a host of things that prevent kids from optimal learning in the classroom that are impossible for teachers to address on their own. Teachers are better able to teach and students are better able to learn when:

  • – kids don’t come into the classroom hungry, or when they don’t come in with a toothache as supported by integrating nutrition and health services in the schools;
  • – kids are not feeling intimidated by other kids or school staff, or feeling unsafe at home and on the way to school, which is improved by utilizing positive behavior supports and other evidenced discipline strategies;
  • – older students have a manageable job after school that they want and need, and when students have had the opportunity to catch up when they fall behind and stay motivated after school and in the summer, made possible through investment in community partnerships and expanded learning;
  • – young people have been able to manage their addictions, mental health or other special needs and other members of their family have been able to do the same through access to those services in school buildings and in the community;
  • – student behaviors are managed well in the school system by recognizing behaviors borne of trauma and addressing them through that lens; and
  • – their parents are able to build their own skills to help and encourage them at home and have the time together at home to use those skills, as supported through adult and community education programs and family friendly work supports.

Everyone knows that educational, career and life success are not built in the classroom alone. Because all of our systems, not just the K-12 system, don’t work as well as they should and often don’t work together, disparities in literacy emerge as early as nine months of age.  Those gaps can continue to grow throughout educational careers without appropriate attention and intervention. In addition, future state budgets will be stressed by recent road funding decisions and inadequate revenue putting other critical state investments at risk.

Despite these challenges, Michigan must find a way to commit investments for teachers and the children, youth, families and communities they serve. To do otherwise would fail to move ahead in the work started by this teacher evaluation legislation. As we better evaluate teachers, we must also ensure that they have the support they need to succeed.

– Michele Corey

Students, Living with Trauma, Struggle in School

October 12, 2015 — John Green, award winning young adult author, recently gave a TEDx Talk in Indianapolis entitled, “The nerd’s guide to learning everything online.” He explained how he was a terrible student and felt education was a series of hurdles he didn’t care to jump. He said teachers would threaten him by saying he couldn’t get a good job because his GPA was too low and it would go on his permanent record. “As far as I could tell at eleven or twelve years old, people with good jobs woke up early in the morning and the men with good jobs, one of the first things they did was tie a strangulation item of clothing around their necks,” he said. “That’s not a recipe for a happy life. Why would I want to jump over all of these hurdles and have that be the end? That’s a terrible end!”

John Green’s example may seem exaggerated but it is the perception of many students and as experts say in the world of sales and advertising, perception is reality. Students who struggle with trauma in their lives often see little to no importance in attending school. They see it as a hurdle, a hurdle that by law is required of them and a hurdle someone other than them cares more about. Why should a student who is burdened by the crushing weight of poverty, hunger, abuse, having to be the main source of income, living in a crime-infested neighborhood, loss of family and friends to violence, being a teen parent, being the parent to their parent(s), and having intermittent heat, electricity, or running water want to attend school? When life is about survival, school is an unnecessary hurdle.

School should not feel like a hurdle, should not feel like something one has to do for someone else. Students have mastered the basic economic principle of opportunity cost without realizing they have. Many students living with trauma see the cost of attending school as greater than the benefits. By being at school, they see the lost opportunity of getting a job, making money, parenting younger siblings, and having the freedom to make their own choices. They don’t see nor value the future benefits promised of an education because they are focused on trying to survive the present.

According to the 2009 New York Times article, “Large Urban-Suburban Gap Seen in Graduation Rates,” the urban-suburban school attendance and graduation gap is due to the inequality of teacher quality from classroom to classroom. We have to start at ground zero, in the classroom, with increasing the quality of teachers and teaching if we are to motivate students to attend school. The teacher ultimately holds the power to motivate students to attend school and the classroom is ground zero for inspiring students. If teachers create a safe and nurturing environment in the classroom, if they differentiate and individualize instruction based on the needs, wants, and learning styles of students, students will want to attend school. If teachers provide students extended learning opportunities such as guest speakers, field trips, contests, simulations, projects, character building workshops, and college and career fairs, students will attend school.

Steps are being taken to improve the quality of teachers and teaching in the alternative and urban schools; however progress is slow and infrequent. Hamtramck Public Schools is one of the few school districts in Michigan to have a person dedicated to teacher evaluation and instructional improvement, which is my current position with the district. The University of Michigan –Dearborn is one of the first and few universities to have a concentration area in Metropolitan Education for their Education Specialist and Doctoral degree programs. More secondary schools and institutions of higher learning should develop programs and plans specifically to improve the quality of instruction within urban and alternative education schools. By doing so, students living with trauma will receive the emotional, social, and academic support they need and will be motivated to attend and stay in school.

– Tim Constant, Director of Teacher Evaluation and Instructional Improvement, Hamtramck Public Schools

Michigan’s Children invited Constant to write a blog about the importance of trauma-informed practices in education and the need for integrated school services to help all students achieve greater academic success. Tim has been involved with Michigan’s Children for many years, ensuring that the young people he serves have a voice in the public policy process. We were glad for him to share his thoughts about recent work to include components of trauma informed practice into expected outcomes for the educators he supports.

Moving Toward the Top

August 20, 2015 – Trying to get better at things is good, particularly trying to get better at things that are in the best interest of children, youth and families in our state. New leadership in the Department of Education has come with new opportunities to get better, and Superintendent Whiston has already shown that he is committed to setting goals and working with others to achieve them. In a state where we ranked 37th of the 50 states in education in the last National Kids Count Data Book, this is essential. The Superintendent and the State Board of Education are spending some time over the next couple of months getting feedback about what it would really take to move Michigan to a top 10 education state.

Michigan’s Children is weighing in on that conversation with what we’ve talked about consistently for years – a focus on shrinking achievement gaps by investing in what works for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Six specific areas rise to the top, each with a myriad of strategies that can and must be forwarded:

Take responsibility for early strategies beyond pre-school by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximizing federal investment in Early On and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Support parents’ role in their children’s literacy by expanding initial efforts to help parents in their role of first and best teachers and to help them reach their own educational and career goals by better investments in Adult Education, workforce supports, and family literacy options so that parents can fully support their children’s literacy journeys.

Change school practice related to student and family trauma by providing school personnel the tools they need to recognize and deal with symptoms of trauma in their students and families and evaluating their ability to do so. It also includes building better connections with community partners who can assist.

Close equity gaps by integrating services and expanding learning opportunities. This includes building assurance that state and federal resources for service integration would go to the best models of service and that supporting services needed by children, youth and families would be available throughout the state. It also includes investing in after-school and summer learning at the state level, in addition to maintaining federal investment.

Give young people multiple chances to succeed by promoting attendance through adjustments in school discipline policies and investment in programs beyond the traditional, arbitrary four-years of high school. The effectiveness of these programs is increased when young people themselves are involved in planning and are clearly connected to a pathway leading toward college or career.

And finally, we suggested that the Superintendent and the State Board provide real leadership in this difficult work that often requires the efforts of many areas of expertise and many sectors of work, including the family and community resources. With so many things impacting a child’s ability to succeed in school and life – many of which are not within the walls of a school and the purview of education pedagogy – it is essential to bring efforts together.

As we’ve said many times before, our educational leaders have their work cut out for them, and as public and private partners available to help, we have our work cut out for us as well.

– Michele Corey

What Children, Youth and Families Need in the New State Superintendent

March 10, 2015 – The search for the new Superintendent of Schools is in the homestretch. Six candidates have been identified.  All but one have led local and intermediate school district work in Michigan, the other is a deputy in Massachusetts’s education department.

This choice has enormous implications for Michigan, particularly in how we build educational success with the most challenged among us. Clearly, we can assume that the candidates are steeped in education pedagogy expertise, and know what they are doing running a classroom and a school building during the school day. The job requires that expertise and more as they face Michigan’s big challenges – some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation; consistently poor showing compared to other states on education measures; and limited improvement on state assessments.

Current Superintendent Flanagan is certainly leaving a legacy. He helped to facilitate the enormous expansion of 4-year old preschool, and has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of the early years for later educational success. Under his watch, the state committed to closing gaps in educational outcomes for African American boys, resulting in shifts in Department practice, and support for local system efforts. In addition, he helped to facilitate several public/private task forces that looked closely at some of the critical issues feeding these gaps including truancy and school discipline practices.

There also have been enormous strides to broaden our methods of attaining, measuring and documenting college and career readiness skills. Partnerships have begun to form with employers, post-secondary institutions and community partners who provide learning opportunities outside the school day. This work points to the need for significant changes in our system that will not only benefit all kids in K-12 schools, but would be a game changer in skill building and credit accumulation for the most challenged young people in this state.

The new Superintendent will need to redouble all of that work. And to be successful, they will need to skillfully collaborate – not only with the Governor and the Legislature (both of whom hold the purse strings), but with the leaders of other state departments, with the rest of the education and workforce continuum, and with other community resources. They will need to capitalize on the broad recognition that what happens beyond the school doors impacts educational success, and call on resources beyond their own purview to help.

Beyond continuing support for current initiatives, what are some specifics priorities for the new Superintendent?

  1. Better address the educational needs of parents. The most consistent predictor of educational success for children remains the educational success of their parents – the research couldn’t be clearer on that. If we want to improve 3rd grade reading and college and career readiness, we not only have to look earlier than kindergarten and bolster children’s experiences beyond the school doors, we also have to look at our support of adult literacy through our adult education system. This system has not successfully served the most challenged adults for quite a while, many of whom are the parents of the most struggling learners.
  2. Focus investment on expanding learning options for children, youth and families beyond the traditional school day. At this point, Michigan relies almost entirely on uncertain federal funds to support before- and after-school and summer programming evidenced to cut equity gaps. In addition, fully coordinating community services through evidenced integrated student services models needs to be given priority.
  3. Extend leadership in improving care for young children beyond pre-school. While Michigan has taken and made strides in improving the quality of our child care system, we’ve done that with fixed federal rather than state investment, limiting our ability to drastically improve access to high quality care. Our subsidy system for the poorest working families consistently ranks us at the very bottom in the nation.  A few years ago, Michigan brought the state’s child care system under the auspices of the Office of Great Start, and additional strides to improve that system are needed.
  4. Develop consistent ways to engage young people in reform strategies and priority development – particularly those experiencing the most challenging educational and life circumstances. This is not easy, but could be done with the help of partners, including Michigan’s Children.
  5. Lead cross-department efforts.  Early on in his 1st term in office, the Governor developed a strategy to connect the dots between state departments by establishing what he termed, the “People Group.” This group is comprised of the directors of the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Civil Rights and Education. The new State Superintendent is ideally suited to lead that group, in light of the transitions occurring with the merger of DHS and DCH, and the space to focus the group’s work on building college and career success.

Whew!  They have their work cut out for them and we have our work cut out for us.  We realize that this is a lot to ask of the next state Superintendent, but there are a lot of public and private partners available to help, if they can take advantage of them.

– Michele Corey

Building a Stronger Foundation for the Right Start

June 19, 2014 – This week, the Michigan League for Public Policy released the annual report, Right Start in Michigan 2014: Maternal and Infant Well-Being in Michigan’s Legacy Cities.  Each year, this report looks at the status of babies and their mothers through a series of birth outcomes.   At the same time, Michigan’s Children updated our own look at high school graduation, High School Graduation Matters in the 2014 Elections.  Both of these documents clearly illustrate that in the next budget cycle and with the next Legislature, more needs to be done to improve graduation rates for our most challenged young people – particularly for young mothers.

As we’ve talked about many times, despite significant improvements over the last several years in high school dropout rates – those kids who leave or are pushed out of high school before graduation – Michigan continues to struggle with real improvement in our 4-, 5- or 6-year graduation rates.  We continue to see significant numbers of young people who are failing to graduate in a 4-year timetable, but are still trying to hang on toward a high school credential.  Unfortunately, we’ve also seen flat or falling investment in the very programs that work for older youth.

The educational attainment of mothers is a key predictor of future success for children.  Not only do parents with limited education have more limited income, but they may also face more challenges navigating systems like education and health care for their children.  In 2012, fully one in eight births in Michigan was to a mother without a high school credential.  We know that it will take young women who give birth in their teens, and often the young men who have fathered those children, more time and more flexible paths to succeed in high school, and we know that there are limited resources for adults who may want to come back to complete that credential after their children are a bit older.

This is unacceptable.   The impact is clear – high school graduation at LEAST is essential to navigate our current economy and society.  The more young people we leave behind because we haven’t provided enough flexible paths to help them build a strong educational foundation for their families; the more challenged Michigan’s communities, schools and economies will remain.  And as the Right Start report indicates, this includes leaving behind our youngest children who may then face subsequent challenges as well.

Luckily, the elections in August and November give all of us a bully pulpit to make sure that decision-makers understand that we expect educational success for everyone, and that we will be glad to assist them if they commit to that path once in office.  Be sure to talk to candidates about this issue if it is one you are particularly passionate about.  Learn more about how you can get engaged in the elections by visiting the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

Here’s to the Graduates

June 6, 2014 – A lot of attention is paid at this time of year to all of the young people who are graduating from high school, and that attention is well deserved.  The graduate that most folks picture is the 17 or 18-year old who has progressed through high school at a traditional 4-year clip and is now poised to move forward to college or career.  Michigan’s Children would like to add to that picture our congratulations for the young people who have taken a different path toward their graduation – those who are graduating after spending their 5th or 6th year in high school; those who have returned to a diploma path after having left or been pushed out of high school; and those who have gotten so far behind and had so many life circumstances in the way that they rightly chose to take a GED path to finish this initial credential.  We celebrate the success of these young adults who are also entering into the same job market and post-secondary options as those who took a traditional, consecutive 4-year trek to get to this point.

Recently released data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that by the year 2018, 62% of the jobs in Michigan will require postsecondary education.  This confirms that in order to hold self- and family-supporting jobs in the future, the learning trajectory for all young adults is just beginning.  As the Michigan College Access Network suggests, all graduates will need financial accessibility to post-secondary of course; but much more than that, they also need academic preparation, social capital, and knowledge to navigate the process.   We are glad for the attention paid to the need for more accessible post-secondary education, and we support those efforts for the most challenged young people in our state.

For those who will not receive their high school credential this spring, the future trajectory is much more uncertain.  We’ve known in Michigan for many years that once young people fall behind in school, or when they face significant personal and educational obstacles, a traditional high school setting is not always successful in reengaging them, yet few alternatives exist.  Once students have left school before diploma, for whatever reason, they need different options to re-engage.   Not enough young people have been able to take advantage of second and third chance programs for school credential and post-secondary paths because they are not consistently available across this state or consistently accessible for all young people who need them.

Michigan’s Children is interested in taking advantage of the sharp increase in recent attention and resources to improve college access in Michigan and help to better define high school and post-secondary paths for the most challenged young people.  Over the next year we will be developing a fiscal map of current resources that serve the 140,000 Michigan 18-24 year olds without a high school credential to create the best options for policy directions in FY16 state and federal budgets and beyond.  We will continue to utilize existing research to illustrate quality models and communicate that information through multiple channels.  And, we will continue to highlight best practice options for young adults that utilize community, workforce and post-secondary partnerships successfully to serve our most challenged young people, families and communities.

Here’s to the 140,000 potential high school graduates in Michigan.  Let’s build investment in their success.

-Michele Corey

Building a Bridge to Success

At a Youth Voice event held Friday, April 13th, decision makers from Calhoun County heard Marshall Alternative High School (MAHS) students discuss their changing educational experiences because of an innovative partnership that began this school year. For more information about the program, check out our Focus on Michigan’s Communities –Building a Bridge to Success: The Opportunity School.

At the event, each student was asked to talk about 1) what circumstances brought them to MAHS, 2) how their experience at the school is different from their former schools, 3) what barriers they still face that affect their educational success, and 4) what they want to be doing in 2-5 years.

The student’s stories were honest, funny, and compelling.  They each discussed barriers that still exist for their own situation like health and family issues, learning disabilities, the perceptions of their family and the public value of alternative education, and access to transportation – one student drives 70 miles round trip daily to attend school. The students identified common benefits and concerns about working toward a diploma through an alternative school rather than through a traditional high school setting.

School Rules vs. Teachers Caring.  All eight students said the main difference between their former school(s) and MAHS is that “the teachers really care.” When our moderator, Becky Rocho from Calhoun ISD, asked students to explain how they know the teachers care, they said, “I know what the rules are, they all keep me in line,” “We’re not allowed to have cell phones in class- you don’t get to talk on your phone while you’re at work, why do you need to have one in class,” and “We can only miss 7 days a semester, no job is going to let you miss 7 days without getting in trouble.”  Interestingly enough, the students all saw teacher’s involvement, clear rules and stricter school policies as their teachers caring about their success – as opposed to these things being a burden on students.

Job Connections.  Each student expressed concerns about finding jobs – and the connection that has to their ability to continue to excel. Some students said they need a job so that they can pay people for gas to get to school, or buy a car – others said they need help getting employers to see that attendance at an Alternative School is worthwhile, particularly when they feel like they’ve chosen MAHS as a positive step towards maturity and independence.  Afterwards, attendees at the event discussed developing a program in partnership with area businesses to place students in job shadowing or internship opportunities connected to student’s various career goals.

Study/Learning Habits.  When asked if there was anything else they wanted to share, one student said that what has helped him the most attending MAHS is that teachers have time in class to help.  He talked about feeling like just a number in his old school and all the rest of the students nodded in agreement.  This started a discussion about small class size and students comments included, “They won’t let you fail,” “They don’t just tell you what to do- they help you learn it,” “They give us one on one help in class,” and “They take time to be sure I understand.”  This theme was overwhelmingly reflected in attendee evaluations – the need for better funding to ensure smaller class sizes that allow more individual attention and learning.

Something to note is that the students’ perceptions weren’t unique – we see the same issues, concerns and benefits of the flexibility offered through alternative education options in programs across Michigan.  What is unique is that this program was developed in partnership with the leaders within the local public schools, community college and the local chamber of commerce.  The community has made a commitment to address the needs of their students – and by leveraging these partnerships the community will continue to grow this program that is not yet a year old.

Michigan’s Children continues to highlight innovative options for high school completion and paths to successful post-secondary and career that combat the current inequity in Michigan graduation rates for low-income students and students of color.  We work hard to move decision makers at all levels to better align state and federal policy to better support community leadership on this issue around the state.

-Beth Berglin

Education for All

Coinciding with his State of the Union address, President Obama released a Blueprint for An America Built to Last. This blueprint contains several education based initiatives to “give hard-working, responsible American’s a fair shot.” Among these suggestions are:

  • Forging new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train and place 2 million skilled workers;
  • Attracting, preparing, supporting, and rewarding great teachers to help students learn; and
  • Keeping students in high school, which challenges all states to require all students to stay in school until their 18th birthday or they graduate.

In addition, Mr. Obama was in Ann Arbor last month to discuss his plan for keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. Included are plans to reform student aid to promote affordability; and more federal support to assist students, such as keeping interest rates on student loans down and increasing the number of work-study positions. The plan also calls on colleges and universities to keep costs down and colleges that can show they provide students with long-term value, would be given additional funds to help grow enrollment.

The President’s plan also includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Quality that would invest $1 billion to give states the incentive to:

  • Maintain adequate funding levels for higher ed to address long term causes of tuition increases;
  • Better align entry and exit standards with K-12 education to facilitate on-time completion; and
  • Revamp how states structure higher ed financing.

On their face, these sound like great plans to help keep tuition costs from rising astronomically, help teachers prepare students for post-secondary education, and give students the best bang for their educational buck. In addition, these initiatives, when taken together, encourage students to stay in school and move into post-secondary education.  However, even when states have tighter compulsory school requirements and tuition increases are small, many students, especially low-income students and students of color, end up over-aged and under-credited when it comes to high school graduation and need non-traditional pathways to graduation, as evidenced by data included in Michigan’s Children’s Building Michigan’s Future Workforce brief.

Additionally, Michigan law already pays to educate students up to age 20, but districts don’t consistently offer programs that re-engage dropouts, nor are they consistently developing and maintaining options for older students.  These options work best when they are built on community college and workforce partnerships which often lead to students earning a post-secondary credential. We know these programs work and there are examples of these innovative partnerships throughout the state.

Overall, President Obama’s goals of attracting and rewarding great teachers, keeping students in high school, keeping tuition low and thus, getting more students into and completing college are noble. However, unless all students, regardless of income or district which they are enrolled, are allowed multiple pathways to graduation and encouraged to achieve a post-secondary education, far too many low-income students and students of color will still be left behind, and with a rapidly diversifying child population, do we really want our children of color, who will be the workforce of the future, unprepared for family and community sustaining employment?

-Jacqui Broughton

Taking Advantage of Michigan’s Opportunity

One of the good news pieces in the Michigan 2011 Kids Count Data Book released last week is that the high school dropout rate in the state fell between 2007 (the first year that Michigan went to the new cohort system that tracks the diploma or GED status of individual young people through 4, 5 and 6 years of high school) and 2010, the most recent information available.  These improvements did not happen by chance.  They happened because of concerted and strategic partnership efforts by schools, districts, cities and towns, health departments, after-school programs, human service agencies and yes, state departments.  They happened because of private philanthropic investment.  They happened because the state overwhelmingly decided that everyone should be in high school until they reach credential.

They also happened because of fear – a broad acknowledgement that the economic and social consequences of dropping out are high and far-reaching.  Costs borne by the young people themselves, our schools, our communities and our state.  As we all know, young people lacking a high school diploma face a labor market that is becoming more and more difficult to successfully navigate.  And, young people without a basic education are less likely to have the maturity and skills needed to parent effectively or the resources to promote the well-being of the next generation.

Despite the fact that this decline in dropout has not resulted in a corresponding increase in “on-time” graduation rates, there is an ever growing group of over-age and under-credited young people who are still connected to school but need more time to finish.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.  Michigan law allows state payment for educating young people toward a high school diploma until they are 20 years old (under certain circumstances, until age 22), resourcing school and community efforts to continue programming through the 5th and sometimes 6th year of high school.

A healthy economy can’t survive our current inequity in graduation rates for low-income students and students of color, and additional time in high school improves equity.  Graduation rates increase for all groups after those additional years, but the fifth and sixth years of high school are particularly beneficial for low-income students and students of color.  This is great news.  We can take advantage of the opportunity to align State and Federal policy to better support young people who are not dropping out by providing multiple pathways to graduation that include more time and flexibility for students.

This year, as every year before, we hope that policymakers use their positions as caretakers of our tax dollars to invest smart from cradle-to-career.  High school dropout is a symptom of success and failures in systems serving kids and families throughout their lives.  Gaps in educational achievement and eventual high school completion between groups of young people experiencing different level of challenge can be traced to the earliest years of a child’s life and continue to grow through their educational careers.  Legislative and Administrative actions over the last several years have diminished services for young people.  Their state budget decisions have placed Federal funding at risk.  This is counter-productive to innovation, partnership building, meaningful education reform, and to a robust economy in Michigan.

There is leadership, however.  In 2008, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flannigan, issued a challenge to schools in Michigan – to curb high school dropout by doing what works.  The Challenge is for all schools: elementary, middle and high, to identify 10-15 young people who aren’t doing so well with the early warning signs of attendance, behavior and coursework and change their trajectory.  The data suggests that schools involved in the Challenge, who intentionally work to prevent high school dropout by utilizing early warning signs and research-based interventions, have lower dropout rates than those who are not part of the Challenge.  This is heady stuff.  Again, opportunity abounds.  We know what works.

We should be encouraged by the possibility of graduating more young people from high school and make sure that the 2013 budget supports that work.

-Michele Corey

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