For Anne Damiecka and her daughter Gabriela Damiecka a recent move from a Houston suburb to Grand Rapids was significant on numerous levels.

But family drew them to West Michigan, and that meant a new high school for Gabriela, heading into her senior year. Not an easy proposition, Anne Damiecka noted.

Still, what could have been a rough landing has been made infinitely softer thanks to the Grand Rapids Public Museum High School.

“I heard about Museum High through a theme school Zoom night,” she recalled recently. “As soon as I saw the name ‘Museum School,’ I was intrigued and wanted to know more.”

Just a few weeks into the school year, that intrigue quickly turned to amazement.

“My daughter has had the best experience,” Anne said with a smile. “At her previous school, she was just a number. There was no personalization or concern for what individual students were interested in.”

That’s not the case at Museum High where school administrators and teachers serve scholars in grades 9 through 12 with programming that combines design thinking, place-based education, and museum methods and environmental learning.

Gabriela has already experienced some of Museum High’s innovative approaches to education her mother said.

“Because of the real-world projects she has been allowed to do, Gabi has discovered a career, landscape architecture, that she wants to pursue,” she said. “Her teachers encouraged her to work on a capstone project and connected her with a community partner who is a landscape architecture student. My daughter is now designing a garden next to the school. She is getting practical experience in her future major before she even starts college.”

That experience lines up with what mother and daughter were told when they first started investigating local high school options.

Anne Damiecka is an ESL instructor and coach at the Literacy Center of West Michigan and has three stepsons who are GRPS graduates (one from Central and two from City). She said the staff at the Museum School did a great job selling her and her daughter on the school’s many benefits.

“The school counselor explained the integrated nature of classes and how students get out of the building and use the city as their classroom,” Anne said. “I have always known that my daughter learns so much from hands-on experiences, so the idea of a school where students interact with real objects and situations – and the city of Grand Rapids itself – seemed like a great opportunity.”

No arguments there from Gabriela.

“If you want to go to a school that you feel is going to prepare you to do well in a work environment and life after school, Museum School is it,” she said. “Teachers encourage you to chase your passions. You learn to reach out to people in the community and form partnerships. In your classes, you are asked to consider and come up with plausible solutions to real-world problems.”

Gabriela also appreciates that the academic model at the Museum School includes dual enrollment and access to college classes in addition to the deep connections to the city that are formed.

“Museum School makes you a part of your community, and you do this in all of your classes,” she said. “But you also have a taste of what college is like. You’re definitely not in a bubble.”

Her words are music to the ears of Museum High and Museum Middle School principal Christopher Hanks.

“It’s exactly what we’re trying to foster at the Public Museum School,” he said. “The community is our classroom is one of our slogans. The ultimate goal for all of our scholars is lifelong learning and Gabi is already demonstrating what that looks like.”