After-school program improves accessibility for students in Ottawa West

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

Panther Pathways is an after-school program specializing 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 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 like 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 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-grade student.

“They really strive to provide access and opportunity for all students,” said Pat Collins, Director of Student and Family Engagement for Ottawa West 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 they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” Collins said.

Carmella and Aliyah say they are grateful for this opportunity.

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

“I feel good because they just see me as a role model in basketball 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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