Noorthoek Academy was founded in 1989 to fill a gap in the community for special education after high school. “When our daughter, Katy, was graduating in 1989 from what was then Kent Occupational High School, she wanted very much to “go to college.”  After looking into what was available in the community, we quickly found that there were no viable options.  With the help of a number of special educational professionals, including the late “Joe” Noorthoek, we created a partnership program with Grand Rapids Community College to address these needs.” says cofounder, Elizabeth Crouch.

As a well-established national model, the Academy has been recognized for its excellence by the Joseph P. Kennedy and W.K. Kellogg Foundations.

Noorthoek Academy is a 501(c) (3), nonprofit organization overseen by a board of Trustees.  In partnership with Grand Rapids Community College, the Academy is able to offer weekly classes including all GRCC’s student privileges.

Mission and Vision

Noorthoek Academy provides an affordable college experience, offering continuing education and inclusion experiences in the arts and sciences for adults with learning challenges and other intellectual disabilities. We are dedicated to creating life-long learning and inclusion opportunities to enrich people’s lives.


The Academy is designed for students who want to expand their knowledge and enrich their lives by learning more about the world around them. We provide many opportunities for self-expression and development of creative talents. We explore the natural sciences, history, literature, drama and current events while learning about other countries and cultures using a dynamic, hands on approach. Being on a college campus and integrating into the mainstream, students have the opportunity to increase their self-confidence and independence while making friends in an atmosphere of mutual respect and encouragement.

Who we serve

We serve Kent and surrounding counties adults, ages 18 and over, who have successfully completed four years of high school. The curriculum is tailored to the needs of the educable mentally impaired student or those with comparable abilities. The successful student is motivated to learn, displays socially acceptable behavior, and is able to read and write (with exceptions for visual impairments).

25th Anniversary Video