Student Spotlight

Meet Katie Cole

Katie Cole is a published Community Columnist for the Grand Haven Tribune. Each month Katie writes, edits, and submits an article for the community to enjoy. Her most recent article featured Noorthoek Academy.Katie was raised in Grand Haven and was one of the original residents at Gracious Grounds. Gracious Grounds is a faith-based community offering independent housing to people with unique abilities. Katie is employed at Leppinks Food Center. Along with spending time with friends, Katie enjoys being with her parents, Rich and Gay Cole.

Learning at Noorthoek Academy

By Columnist Katie Cole

 Sep 23, 2021

What is Noorthoek Academy? How did it get started? To answer those questions, I contacted Lyn VanTol, the executive director of Noorthoek.

Noorthoek Academy was started in 1989. It was started for students who want to keep learning after high school and CBI. Noorthoek gives students a college experience.

A mom, Elizabeth Crouch, helped create the partnership with Grand Rapids Community College. Other special-education professionals worked with her on it. One of the people who worked hard to create this opportunity was Joe Noorthoek. The academy is named for him. Elizabeth’s daughter, Katy, is still a student at Noorthoek Academy.

When it was started, Noorthoek was the first college experience in North America for students with special needs. Isn’t that amazing? It has been recognized for its excellent work by the Joseph P. Kennedy and W.K. Kellogg Foundations.

Students at Noorthoek want to go to college to study and to learn. Classes each semester are planned for students to learn more about the world around them. Students can also take other classes in creative writing, computers and more.

In the beginning, all the students lived in the Grand Rapids area. Now there are students from Kent and Ottawa counties. There are also students from Arizona, North Carolina and Florida! This fall, there are 90 students attending.

During the pandemic, students had their classes in Zoom. This semester, students can choose between going to class on the GRCC campus or by Zoom. I am happy to be back to in-person classes.

I have attended Noorthoek Academy for over five years. I like to go to classes because I like to study and learn new things. I take the writing class so I can learn more about my writing skills and to be a better writer.

I have enjoyed learning about many different topics, too. My favorite semesters were when we studied zoology, the solar system and American heroes. We sometimes take field trips to learn more about our subjects. We have speakers come to our class. We sometimes get to taste new foods! This semester we are studying Italy. Maybe we will eat pizza or spaghetti!

I always wanted to go to college. My brother and cousins all went to college. I wanted that experience, too. I get that at Noorthoek. I go on campus. I have a student ID card. I have homework. I can go to the cafeteria to get my lunch. I am a college student!

I also like going to class because I have made new friends. We learn and study together. We help each other when we have questions. My friend, Kylee VanTol, helped me feel confident about going to Noorthoek when I was nervous.

Noorthoek Academy is the perfect college for me. Best of all, I am with my friends and I can keep learning.