Big Rapids is a secluded rural community in western Michigan, one hour from Grand Rapids and other neighboring cities. What was once a logging town now includes mainly service, factory, and agricultural jobs. The local state university, originally founded to provide alternative vocational training for injured loggers, supports the area's industrial market.
Big Rapids Middle School is the town's only middle school. Most of its students come from dual-income or single-parent families; 90 percent are Caucasian, and 10 percent are minority. With a quarter of Big Rapids' land used for farming, homes are spread out, and students ride the bus to school from as far as 20 miles away.
The after-school Community Learning Center was created at Big Rapids to improve academic performance and to provide enrichment activities for its students, who are geographically isolated from one another and often on their own after school. After one year, 65 percent of Big Rapids' students are enrolled.