Granting Art at Harbor High (Published in Milford Times in 2017)

By Ben Dowker, Harbor High School Teacher

Jenavie Reed, a senior at Harbor High School, walked into the cluttered art room and sat down in her customary seat with sigh. The pressure of possible tomorrows weighed on her shoulders and strained her smile. “What’s up?” asked Mr. Lawson sensing tension amongst the watercolor supplies. “Nothing...I don’t know. I am just worried about going to college,” Jenavie replied clipping her words with worry.

Jared Lawson, art teacher at Harbor High School, has begun his first year teaching focusing on what truly matters in education--relationships. By building relationships with his students, school, and community, he is creating a collaborative learning environment for all who step foot in his room. His efforts have been noticed and relationships forged bringing in new partners and old.

The HVS Development Fund, headed by Chris Ceresa awarded a grant to fund the increased development of a ceramics and pottery program at Harbor. These funds will pay for a new pottery wheel, glazes, and supplies further broadening Harbor’s curriculum offerings and the creative potential of its students. “The Fund Development department is very excited to help Harbor High School students enhance and expand their art education program.  We would like to thank our business partners and alumni for their generous contributions.  Without them, these grants would not be possible,” said Chris Ceresa after making the grant announcement.  

The HVS Fund Development Department was able to fulfill all or part of every grant request in this last disbursement for arts and athletics totaling more than $28,000 dollars to support teaching and learning in Huron Valley Schools.  If you would like more information about donating to HVS Fund Development or would like to volunteer, please contact Chris Ceresa at

With the addition of a kiln donated to Harbor from White Lake Middle School earlier this year, the generous HVS Fund Development Grant will enable a broader list of curricular offerings. Mr. Lawson is very excited to begin offering 3D design, pottery, and sculpture classes. His infectious enthusiasm for creation, art, and expression are a catalyst for his students pulling them forward to scratch figures out of the darkness of a scratchboard, to bleed life into the white of their watercolors, and to create something only held in their mind’s eye.

Pulled along by his enthusiasm, more students than ever are taking to the pages of Harbor Ink, Harbor’s arts and creative writing journal, for publication. “The art program has been revitalized with the addition of Mr. Lawson on our staff, and his efforts can be seen in the pages of Harbor Ink,” said Susan Gallagher, Director of Adult and Alternative Programs, “the students are creating for an audience beyond themselves, beyond the art room, and beyond Harbor.”

These sentiments are echoed by his students. “knowing that my artwork is going to be published is the best feeling in the world. My art is actually worth more than a compliment or a grade. Mr. Lawson has built a relationship with each one of us. He makes it a point that we are not just part of his job. We are his family,” said Amber Gilchrist, a graduating senior at Harbor.

Jenavie strode through the open door of Mr. Lawson’s room and slid into her customary seat with an easy smile on her face. A new copy of Harbor Ink tugged for her attention. Pulling it out of her bag, she looked at the words again in disbelief, “Blossoming Hope by Jenavie Reed.” She was published. Spanning two pages, vibrant petals of yellow, gold, and red could not be held by the paper stretching for the sun and the next page.   


Harbor Inks Another Page (Published in Milford Times 2016)

By Jasmin Grasse (HHS Student) and Ben Dowker (HHS Teacher)

The bright florescent lights flooded the room as Jasmin walked in, hands shaking and mind bolting. Sitting down in her assigned seat, she listened attentively as the Creative Writing teacher stood tall and spoke distant words. Looking over her shoulder at the sea of students, their faces blurred like smudged paint. The teacher walked swiftly around the room carrying permission slips titled Harbor Ink. Passing one to Jasmin, she took it and looked over the printed words feeling a blip of excitement, against the constant background of anxiety and worry, before slipping it into her backpack.

Founded in 2014, Harbor Ink, Harbor High School’s creative arts journal, showcases the struggle, the creativity, and the grit behind the “At Risk” label of alternative education. The journal accepts submissions of art, photography, creative nonfiction, and fiction from current students. The stories and art collected in its pages speak to the trials of students pressed too soon into the trenches of life. "Harbor Ink offers an audience to student voices and stories. And it is that audience that gives it strength and meaning. They are writing and creating for an audience beyond themselves, but for themselves. They are walking in the shoes of authors, artists, page designers, editors, and painters,” said Susan Gallagher, Director of Adult and Alternative Programs.

A select group of student staff members have worked tirelessly to create the 2015-16 Harbor Ink. Guiding their roles in the production of the journal are their interests. The student journal has offered students the opportunity to try their hands at industry specific jobs in a comfortable environment, formatting page designs, peer revising student stories, and writing original content. “Having my own work published and read by a large audience gives me an extreme sense of pride. It’s very rewarding to know that there will be people, other than myself, that are going to read my creations. I am so glad I had the opportunity to come to this school and to get a chance to put my passion out into the world,” said Sabrina Crum, Harbor Ink contributor and editor.

“I have a profound sense of pride for Harbor Ink. The quality of the work displayed in its heavy pages is phenomenal. But it’s not only that…I am proud to be a teacher and advisor to survivors,” said Mr. Dowker, HHS teacher and Harbor Ink advisor, “our students have pushed forward, overcame, and continue to struggle with difficult life experiences.”

Born of this struggle are the stories. One of America’s storytellers, Ernest Hemingway was challenged once by Smith Magazine to write a story in six words. He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Included in this year’s Harbor Ink is a collection of six-word memoirs from current students.

“Houses aren’t homes like people are.”

“Life is hard. Hope is treacherous.”

“Girlfriend ran me over. It hurt.”

“I just wish I was normal.”

“My mind wasn’t built for chaos.”

“Can’t fail…Until I give up.”    

Spurned by past failures, Harbor students are pushing forward, overcoming, and struggling to build themselves anew with Harbor Ink.

The smooth cover came in contact with her hand, and looking at it, she was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride, leaving behind a hinted smile on her lips. Slowly flipping through to her page, her eyes absorbed each inked word, her words, printed on the crisp heavy paper. Bubbling happiness pushed aside the unease of belonging, the gravity of depression, and the longing for something beyond getting by.

I belong here. I am a writer, she thought.

The new 2015-16 Harbor Ink is available for purchase at


Harboring Futures (Published in the Milford Times May 21, 2015)

By Bre Craig (HHS Student) and Ben Dowker (HHS Teacher)

Jordyn’s backpack timidly clung to her shoulders as she walked into the crowded lab classroom. Her composition teacher stood tall and poised with long dark brown hair as she waited for the last few students and silence. Choosing her seat in the back of the classroom, Jordyn’s nerves bounced off of the walls around her, I don’t belong here. Her anxiety flipped nervously through the crisp black folder labeled “Oakland Community College” on her lap.

Humming in the hallways  before the first bell was an air of excitement and possibility. Thirty-six sleep-deprived Harbor High School students gathered in a computer lab waiting for the bus to arrive. The possibility space beyond graduation was looming nearer and nearer for these seniors and juniors, and HHS has continued to take a keen interest in their success. The bus for the Specs Howards School of Media Arts trip left in ten minutes.  

Thanks to a generous contribution from the AT&T Foundation, Harbor High School has made it a priority to harbor not just students but their futures. According to Susan Gallagher, Director of Adult and Alternative Programs, “Through their Aspire Program, AT&T has provided our students with tremendous opportunities to explore some of the possibilities for their futures. Visits to post-secondary institutions, access to specialized workshops, enhancements to video production and publication classes, and several other creative endeavors have combined to enhance student learning and clarify our post-secondary education and training.”

Every single student has had multiple opportunities to visit and be open to post-secondary options such as Specs Howard, Detroit Institute of Music Education, Motion Picture Institute of Detroit, University of Northwestern Ohio, The Art Institute of Michigan, and Oakland Community College. These experiences enlivened students’ hopes for their future by fostering possibilities perhaps unseen, unheard, and unsung through life’s stigmas and blinders. When asked about the school trips and their affect, HHS Senior Richard Dukelow said, “The Specs Howard school trip really helped me see my options, and after I graduate in June, I will be going to OCC and then on to Specs Howard to get a degree graphic design.” 

Traditional classes at Harbor have been pulled along by the vision and momentum of post-secondary possibilities as well. Teachers Ben Dowker and Scott Armstrong stretched the job shadow component of Senior English to forge lasting relationships with community professionals, businesses, and corporations. In addition to conventional shadowing assignments, students were able to visit Team Detroit and the WDIV Channel 4 News broadcasting studio. 

Students even participated in a community-based mock interview experience staffed by Brian Beer, Chris Nooe, and Ron Lisch. When asked about the experience, Chris Nooe from Iron Mountain Information Management LLC out of South Lyon said, “I really enjoyed learning each student's backgrounds, aspirations and dreams for the future. It was clear that most of these young men and ladies have a genuine desire to make the most of the opportunity they've been given and become strong contributors in their communities. I was pleased and honored to be a part of the day."

Additionally, this year, nearly 20% of Harbor High seniors are dual enrollment students with Oakland Community College. With one foot firmly on the worn carpet of high school and one foot on the polished tile of college, students are earning high school and college credit. Bolstered by the support of their teachers, students begin to see a future beyond Harbor, Highland, and home, built on hard work and success after failure.  

She stood towering at the front of the classroom giving her speech about her dual enrollment. Standing in front of dozens of students, her hands quivering, she waited for her teacher to indicate her final grade. “You got a B, Jordyn Riutta, you passed.” Her teacher was nonchalant about it, having said it many times, but Jordyn was jumping out of her skin in excitement. She did it. She passed her first college class.

Inspiring and Harboring futures, one student at a time.


Serving up A's and B's (Published in Milford Times on Jan 10, 2014)

By Ben Dowker (HHS Teacher)


"I am going to be on the list this trimester," said Austin Suggs, a senior at Harbor High School, as he stepped over the threshold into Paul Sullivan's classroom an early morning in December. His voice punctuated the quiet ringing in the semidarkness of the room before first bell. "I am going to be on the lunch pass list all term," he elaborated with confidence. 


Since instituting a semi-closed hot lunch program at the start of the year, HHS students have pushed themselves to do better academically. Students who earn a B or better in every class win a coveted spot on the lunch pass list and open campus freedom. In the first six short weeks of the year, failure rates dropped by 14% from the previous year. 


Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year, Harbor students had been limited to a cold lunch option. But with significant financial contributions and a motivation to improve the options for Harbor students, Joan Steele, Director of Huron Valley School Food Service, helped make a hot lunch possible at HHS, but the effects stretched beyond the lunch period.  When asked about the new lunch program Joan couldn’t help but be excited, "It is not often that a food service team is so directly involved with making a positive difference in student achievement in the classroom.  Of course, we know that by providing healthy meals throughout the district, we are helping kids to be ready to learn, but at Harbor High, the academic results are amazing. The Harbor staff and Diana Schueneman, a dedicated lunch lady, launched the idea last year, and it has truly been rewarding to be part of this effort."


 “With our new lunch program in place, our attendance and grade averages have shot up tremendously. Although it is a nice to leave for an hour and take a break from the day, it is not a right; it is a privilege we must earn,” said Zac Brewer, a junior at Harbor. Michael Thompson, a junior, added, “The new lunch policy has given me motivation, and for the first time in a long time, I am doing really well, and I have hope.” The simple act of harnessing a student freedom to become a driving force behind student motivation has promoted student academic achievement, responsibility, and growth.  


At the end of the first trimester at Harbor just 12 weeks into the year, the overall failure rate dropped by 17% compared to last year and is trending down. Susan Gallagher, Director of Alternative Programs, was all smiles when asked about the new hot lunch program and academic threshold, “I knew the program was going to be successful, but I had no idea that it would be as successful as it has been. Our students are making tremendous strides towards graduation and academic success, and without the help of Sue Gilson, HVS Director of Maintenance and Operations, Joan Steele, and the dedication of my staff, it would not have been possible.”  


Austin Suggs strode into Mr. Sullivan's classroom early Monday morning with a huge smile brimming with excitement and accomplishment that splashed over to touch the corners of his eyes. Paul Sullivan leaned over his desk, his expression asking the question. "I did it...I made the list," said Austin laughing and filling the silence with excitement, "the lunch list...I finally made the lunch list."


Harbor High School is now serving up hot lunches with sides of A's and B's. 



CSI Harbor (Published in the Milford Times May 8, 2013)

By Ben Dowker


"Hey, is this an ulnar or a radial loop?" scrutinized Paige Lorenz, a senior at Harbor High School, as she edged in closer to the print and warned, "we are going to have to watch that island when we count ridges." Scenes similar to this one played out across the classroom as eager students leaned over print samples and determined guilt or innocence based on whorls, ridges, loops, and arches. This class is just part of a push at Harbor to motivate students through innovative cross-curricular class options. 


Harbor High School in recent years has dramatically broadened its course offerings to meet the expanding Common Core Curricular Standards and to garner student enthusiasm. The two-part forensics class has emerged as a student favorite in the climate of crime scene investigation TV dramas. 


Aside from the innovative approach to science, this class offers a wide range of reading and writing content blended in seamlessly as crime scene reports, expert witness testimony, and lab journals. Emily Blanchard, an English team-teacher, had this say about the cross-curricular approach, "two teachers working together to teach one class is magical. The students have the benefit of extra support and guidance. In Forensics, we are able to do some pretty amazing activities: soil analysis, finger printing, blood spatter, hair identification, and tire tread analysis. By blending the two disciplines together, Science and English, the students produce some awesome work."    


Thanks to a district technology grant, Harbor students have not only been able to mesh English and Science but also technology into Forensics. Forensic documenting of a crime scene has gone paperless with students carefully standing just inside caution tape snapping pictures and briefly tapping out notes and observations.    


“Integrating technology into our forensics curriculum has been beneficial on many levels, most notably student engagement.  The iPads have been an integral part of our classroom, serving as both a research tool and as a means of demonstrating and sharing what students have learned, through activities like student-created videos, podcasts, and blogs,” responded Anne Zambito, an English team-teacher, when asked about the use of technology as a tool for collaboration and motivation.   


The energy was palpable on evidence day as numbered yellow cards dotted the landscape of the crime scene tucked away in the back corner of the classroom. While each forensic team took their turn at evidence collection and documentation, students whispered in hushed tones from the sidelines as they caught glances of the scene, iPads under their arms. 


Nate Clay, the lead teacher for the two forensic courses, enthusiastically shared his observations of the student involvement: “It’s really amazing to see students getting into science like this! For once, I don’t have to respond to the question, ‘When am I going to use this?’ Students see the immediate value of their hands-on learning and are drawn into it.” 


Meanwhile, a separate group of budding forensic analysts hunched over the last of the possible print matches linked to the crime scene. "Look at the bifurcation of the central pocket loop! This is our guy!" said Paige enthusiastically to her lab partner as she shot her hand into air to alert her teacher, "this is a match!" 


And it is safe to say that Harbor has found its match in Forensics. 



Harbor High Students Set Sail (Published in the Milford Times October 9, 2012)

By Timothy Frederick


 “If all students had a safe harbor, none would be at risk.” Harbor High School continues to provide a safe harbor for students by offering unique educational opportunities for those students who sought out another path towards success. Harbor has excels in meeting the students’ individual needs, helping them to discover future ambitions, and aiding them in achieving their high school diplomas. As college edification becomes more emphasized in today’s society, Harbor strives to encourage students to seek post-secondary educational specializations, and provides them with the right advantages to help them succeed in continuing their education beyond the diploma.


This continued achievement beyond the safe harbor of HHS is highlighted by two recent graduates, Dale Bowen and Ryan Chappel. Both students previously attended school at Milford and Lakeland and made the decision to transfer to Harbor High in 2009. Before their transition, both of them felt overwhelmed with the traditional high school experience and found that Harbor High was surprisingly helpful in offering alternative solutions to meeting their individual and educational goals. While attending Harbor, Dale and Ryan discovered new ambitions of pursuing college opportunities after graduation with the help of continued encouragement by the Harbor staff. 


In a recent interview both students were asked to answer a few questions about their experiences at Harbor High School. When asked about the benefits of attending Harbor High, Dale stated, “Because Harbor is a smaller school, I was able to get a lot of one-on-one time with teachers in a comfortable setting. I also really felt like part of a family rather than just a student.” He continued by adding very sincerely, “I believe Harbor High really saved me.” When asked about what was most helpful at Harbor in achieving their goals, Ryan responded, “The teachers really went out of their way to encourage me to apply myself and work towards my goals. I felt very close to my peers as well as my teachers, and as Dale said, there was a genuine family atmosphere.”


Both students have since earned their diplomas and are currently pursuing degrees in computer science from Baker College. “I feel the teachers really understood me here” said Dale, “It’s like we are all in the same boat here at Harbor.” And like many of the students at Harbor, that boat is sailing on to warmer waters.