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After School Program Shows How Eagle Crest is Building the Hope

Joseph Hernandez noticed last year that several teachers at Eagle Crest Charter Academy were staying after school to help tutor students. Because of his passion for working with at-risk students, that observation led to a partnership program that has opened up a whole new world for students.
Hernandez, a sixth grade teacher in his second year at Eagle Crest, started the connection with the school’s free Step Up After School program with Hope College. Two days per week, sixth to eighth grade students are transported to Hope College, spend time with a mentor and visit places like the student center or walk around Hope College.
“Being able to go to a college campus and realize this is a college class I could take or having them be with their mentor is a huge blessing for those kids,” Hernandez said.
Efforts like the Step up After School Program are part of the reason Eagle Crest earned the title of a Building the Hope school that can provide strategies to be leveraged for educational recovery.
Eagle Crest was honored among Michigan elementary schools for its exceptional student achievement on 2021-2022 state assessments. Eagle Crest students from Hispanic backgrounds and economically disadvantaged households exceeded statewide averages in both English Language Arts and math for grades 4, 6, 7, and 8, according to a statewide data analysis by The Education Trust-Midwest. The school’s fifth graders from economically disadvantaged homes exceeded statewide standards in English Language Arts, while Hispanic students exceeded the statewide average in both English Language Arts and math.
In addition to help from mentors academically, the Step Up After School Program gives students different experiences and activities from a social standpoint.

“I’m just hoping that they can meet new people and have that open mind experience where they’ll face new challenges but go at them with an open mind knowing that they can talk to others,” Hernandez said. “The response has been good.”

Before coming to Eagle Crest, which has outperformed the local district for 13 years, Hernandez worked with an intervention program and also with Step Up as a mentoring coordinator. Teaching and coaching soccer at Eagle Crest has allowed him to transition from handling caseloads to building relationships with a classroom of kids.

Mr. Hernandez coaching girls soccer team.

It didn’t take long for him to have a reputation at Eagle Crest for being able to connect with students.
“Just being here the last year, word has gone around somehow to the kids in elementary about me and even the teachers, too,” he said. “My teammates will come to me about any behavior issues with certain kids and they’ll send them my way and I’ll talk to them for a couple of minutes, give them a small incentive or goal and it’s a complete 180 when they go back into class. I’m able to help the student more but I’m also feeling good that I was able to help the teacher and that whole classroom environment even if I wasn’t in the room.”

Hernandez said being vulnerable with students makes it easier to connect with them. He lets them know how he’s feeling to establish transparency and guides them in conversations with open-ended questions to help them express themselves.

Hernandez is trying to give students the support he didn’t necessarily get as a kid growing up in Chicago. He’s letting them know it’s OK to make mistakes and help them deal with any pressure they might have at home.

“I’m at this point in my life where I’m trying to have the kids who have that same mindset or were in the same situations as myself,” he said. “I was a troublemaker so I can talk to those kids who are ‘troublemakers.’”

Keep up the excellent work, Mr. Hernandez!

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About Eagle Crest Charter Academy
Eagle Crest Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Holland, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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