Teacher Spotlight: Jamie Bandstra, leading G2S.

February 16, 2021

Teacher Spotlight: Jamie Bandstra, leading G2S.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, staff writer.

Teacher Spotlight is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, www.shelbybank.com with offices in Ludington, Pentwater, Shelby, Hart, Hesperia, Manistee, Montague, Whitehall, North Muskegon, and Fruitport. 

CUSTER TOWNSHIP – From a young age, Gateway to Success Academy (G2S) Superintendent Jamie Bandstra knew from watching his parents, both professors at Ferris State University, that he was interested in working with young people.

“I’ve always loved working with young people and have desired to have a positive impact on people’s lives,” he said. “Education was a great place to do both. My parents were both educators and worked as professors at Ferris State University for many years. My dad taught computer information systems and my mom taught English, which also became my major. I also enjoy sports and the idea of coaching and working with students in the classroom was an exciting idea.”

After graduating high school, Bandstra took that next step closer to becoming an educator.

“I attended Big Rapids High School and graduated in 1989,” he said. “I then went on to graduate from Western Michigan University, in 1995, with a major in English and minor in psychology. I went on to receive a master of educational leadership from Western Michigan University in 2011.”

Bandstra has been in education for 19 years and it all started when he and his family moved back to Michigan after living in Seattle for five years.

“I started working for Ludington at OJ DeJonge Middle School in 2002,” he said.” “I was hired as the coordinator of student improvement and worked with a caseload of about 15 students in the middle school. My job was to provide instruction and social and emotional support to these students where needed. 

“I then went to work at Lakeshore Public Academy in Hart, for two years, 2003-2005. There, I taught middle school and high school English, and coached boys’ and girls’ basketball. I transitioned back to Ludington Area School District and spent 10 years working at Journey Junior/Senior High School.

“I taught English there for one year and was the principal for nine years. I have been the superintendent and principal at G2S Academy for six years.”

After being chartered in the spring of 2015, G2S opened its doors that fall. Bandstra and a group of educators were excited to meet their new students and families. He said even though the school has been open for six years now, there is still a lot of misconception about it and how it operates and prepares students for after high school.

“G2S is different from other schools in that it almost provides a private school environment within the public-school structure,” Bandstra said. “We have to follow all the guidelines that other public schools have to follow, but our smaller size and more innovative instructional design, really set us apart. We focus on better understanding and meeting the individual needs students bring to the table. Whether those are needs for remediation or needs, specific interests a student has, or allowing a student to pursue more advanced areas of study, our project-based learning (PBL) model provides a mechanism to make learning relevant and differentiate instruction based on the students’ needs.

“It also integrates the four Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity at a very high level. People often underestimate how important these skills are for all students to be successful beyond high school.”

Being at the helm of the school has its own set of needs, but Bandstra said he still also enjoys the normal, day-to-day interactions with students, staff and families.

“I still enjoy working with students and staff on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s truly an honor to be able to be a part of people’s lives and influence their futures. Seeing those lightbulb moments are so cool. Those times when you know a student gets it. I’ve always enjoyed doing co-curricular activities, one of those is taking students on outdoor adventure trips. It’s amazing what students learn about themselves and others when they have to carry everything they need for a few days or a week on their backs. Camping out under the stars, hiking a trail, or kayaking a river, really puts things into perspective and allows students to grow in ways you can’t see in the classroom.”

Stating that the students work with project-based learning models, Bandstra believes in this concept and watches how it helps mold student’s thinking in different ways outside of standard classroom lecture situations.

“In my role as the superintendent and principal of G2S, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a fabulous team of people,” he said. “It’s been amazing to be a part of something from the ground up. To be able to develop a vision for what could be and then bring it to fruition has been one of the more fulfilling ventures of my life. Learning to use the project-based learning model over the past thirteen years, has been extremely rewarding. Making learning engaging and relevant is a goal central to education on the whole.”

Along with PBL, Bandstra said he believes there are certain missed opportunities for students when looking at curriculum in general and he feels that when teachers and educators take their thinking outside of the box is when they truly benefit all students at all different levels of learning.

“If I could change anything about education, I’d encourage educators to continue to be innovative and creative in finding ways to meet the varying educational needs that exist,” he said. “There’s still a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. I know public education is committed to creating equity, but many students still don’t have equal access to the resources in our schools.

“As an example, students who are competitive in sports, are often those students who have families that can afford to travel and provide additional opportunities for their kids to play. I don’t know what the answer is, but the issue is very real. These gaps aren’t just about sports, they obviously extend to our classrooms as well.”

Like schools across the world, G2S Academy has also been faced to work around the reality that is COVID-19, but because of the model they started with back in 2015, they also have been able to offer students different learning methods that have come in handy and that weren’t just sprung onto the staff last spring.

“Coronavirus has been an extremely tough situation to navigate,” Bandstra said. “Maybe the toughest of my educational career. At G2S, we have tried the best we can to make the best of crummy situation. We’ve tried to leverage this situation to enhance our online learning opportunities and have provided, what I believe is the only fully synchronous online program in the region.

“It’s shown us clearly that the best place for most students is to be in school getting instruction and interacting with their peers on a daily basis. Students can access any class via Zoom at any point in the day, or they can be in the building receiving face to face instruction, when allowed by state guidance. Our program design gave us the flexibility to move back and forth, from fully virtual at some points, to being able to provide students options of virtual or face-to-face at other points. Our middle school has been able to operate in a face-to-face manner all year, except for one week, and we are excited that we have been able to get high schoolers back into the building after Christmas.”

With all the ups and downs happening now in the educational field, Bandstra still stated that he encourages anyone with a passion to pursue teaching as a career.

“For students who want to pursue education, I’d say it can be a very rewarding field,” he said. “I’d tell them to work hard and stand up for the needs of your students. I’d also tell them to look for ways to connect with students outside the classroom, whether it’s co-curriculars or other clubs. These connections enhance the work you do with students in the classroom and build powerful arenas to lead and mentor students.”

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