With Ellen Lipton at the Helm, Hazel Park Promise Zone…

With Ellen Lipton at the Helm, Hazel Park Promise Zone Supports Student Education

(Lara Mossa, Oct. 16, 2019)

HAZEL PARK, FERNDALE, MI – Progress has been happening in the Hazel Park Promise Zone. Formed in 2010, the Promise Zone helps Hazel Park Schools’ students find resources and funding to go to college or vocational training.

The Promise Zone board brought in Ellen Cogen Lipton to serve as Acting Director in May, and in June they hired Brandon Gleaton as Program Director.  Working together along with a board and volunteers, they’ve stepped up the offerings of the program, adding in more educational and mentorship opportunities to help kids prepare, in addition to the scholarships they’ve been known for.

“It’s definitely a sense of excitement when you see students realize they belong in college and be successful – seeing that at the end of each semester is gratifying and that is what continues to fuel my work supporting students,” Gleaton said.

Residents who enroll in Hazel Park Schools through fifth grade or earlier are guaranteed full tuition and fees to be paid for at Oakland Community College. Students also can receive funding up to $6,400 if they attend another Michigan institution. To be eligible, students must apply for state and federal funding first. Grants awarded in a certain semester are subtracted from the $1,600 for that term, according to the Hazel Park Promise Zone website. If students have attended the district starting in the 5th grade or earlier, they can receive 100 percent of the award. The percentage goes down for students who entered the school system in 6th grade through graduation.

While Gleaton does not anticipate changes this school year, he is working on finding more university partners to help with the program.

“It’s a great resource for the community,” he said. “It stabilizes neighborhoods. It provides access and opportunity to young people and provides support so they can see themselves as college graduates.”

Gleaton previously worked as program manager for City Year Detroit, part of a national nonprofit organization, that focuses on academics for grades 3rd through 8th in Detroit Public Schools. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Wayne State University and is working on a master’s in public administration and policy at the University of Michigan.

Lipton, who also serves as treasurer for the Hazel Park Promise Zone board, is restructuring the management of the organization. So far, she has implemented weekly staff meetings and a new data system to track students once they graduate. In addition, she is revamping the website to help students apply for grants online.

“I felt like it was really important given all of the components of the program that we take stock of all of things we’re doing, how we’re doing them and make sure we are focused on all of our students being successful in their post-secondary education,” she said.

A volunteer, Lipton is an attorney who served as a former State Representative for the district that includes Hazel Park and six other communities from 2008 through 2014.

Along with increasing the number of students involved, the ultimate goal for the Hazel Park Promise Zone is to provide four years of funding for collegebound students, she said.

“It’s always been the vision for the board.”

While the board is not actively seeking a permanent director, Lipton said either a new director will be hired or the duties will be assigned to one of the current staff members.

She estimated more than 1,500 students have been touched by the Hazel Park Promise Zone if you consider 200 pupils a year for eight years.

In Hazel Park, the group has helped scholars find more than $5 million in external scholarships and monetary awards, Gleaton said. Last year, 82 percent of the seniors committed to college including 26 post-secondary institutions.

“Our Promise Zone helps individuals pay for two years of community college, and students who aren’t from Hazel Park have the opportunity to get grants and scholarships as well,” said Amy Kruppe, Superintendent of Hazel Park Schools, who has been involved for five years and also sits on the board.

This year, the Hazel Park Promise Zone hired a post-secondary success coach to work with college freshmen through their first year and recruited 52 community mentors to help with that initiative. If the students participate, they can even earn up to six $50 gift cards.

One of 10 Promise Zones throughout Michigan, the Hazel Park program is funded by the community’s tax base and donations. Besides monetary awards, the project has a counselor that works with students to help them apply to post-secondary institutions. Created by a state statute, the Promise Zones are guided by the Michigan Promise Zone Association. Lipton is president of that association’s Board of Directors.

The Hazel Park Promise Zone holds several fund-raising events throughout the year to pay for scholarships. Beginning in October, letters will be mailed to local businesses, residents and alumni to garner donations with a goal to raise $75,000, Gleaton said. Donations can be made online as well.

The Hazel Park District includes Hazel Park and part of Ferndale, and they welcome students from neighboring communities as well.  For more information, go to www.hazelparkpromise.com.

Note: This story has been updated to clarify that some scholarships came external scholarships.

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