Marchand family generosity will benefit Congress Elementary

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 PHOTOS COURTESY OF MILLER JOHNSON

 

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

 

Both an interest in education and a commendable generosity seem to come naturally to members of the Marchand family.

Rosemary Marchand loved her entire 39-year career spent as a schoolteacher, teaching first third grade, then fourth briefly, and finally spending 31 years educating first graders.

But though her son Neil decided to become an attorney, currently practicing at Miller Johnson, it is clear his mother’s love of education weaves in and out of his own actions.

“I’ve been passionate about education all my life. We always said we were a teacher family, it’s basically like the whole family is kind of geared to helping kids learn,” he says. 

One of the ways Marchand expresses this love of teaching is by tutoring at Congress Elementary School, as part of the Schools of Hope Program through Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Schools of Hope partners one-on-one volunteer tutors with students in first, second and third grades who are starting to have difficulty reading. Many of these tutors come as the results of agreements with more than 60 area companies.

Marchand says that the Miller Johnson attorneys who volunteer do so on their own personal time, but the firm pays for staff to participate.

“This year I go in every Monday morning and read with the student, and the student usually reads to me, and we work on words they find hard. Then we play word games to help them increase their reading proficiency,” Marchand says. “It’s just the best start to my week!”

The program’s website, www.

hwmuw.org/soh, explains more, offers a list of the schools on the Schools of Hope list, and features a nice video about a little boy being tutored. In that video, the child’s aunt and guardian notes that part of the program’s strength is that it intervenes at a point when a student can still be brought up to grade level, not after he or she has experienced failure that may lead to never catching up.

Congress Elementary, which covers pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, certainly faces challenges. Although it still has a long way to go, with 2013 and 2014 rankings at about the 17th percentile among Michigan schools in terms of test scores, it has improved greatly since 2006, when it was right near the bottom — 1534th of 1544 schools in the state.

The percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches is a whopping 97%.

As Marchand observed what was going on at the school, he says, “I really saw the need for additional resources and support.”

Enter Marchand’s mother Rosemary.

Like many teachers, over the years Rosemary Marchand had dipped into her own personal funds to purchase books and supplies. In her case, that amounted to a whole lot at the time of her retirement in 2010.

Still, as Neil explains, “At that time she wasn’t ready to part with everything.”

Mrs. Marchand, in fact, was a bit reluctant to retire. 

“I just love the little ones. You know, they get so excited about the holidays coming ... I just love that energy level,” she says. “So really I wasn’t ready to retire when I did. At first it was a real hard adjustment. But after a while I realized that it was probably good timing all the way around.”

As she felt more and more comfortable with all she could accomplish during retirement and concluded it was permanent, Rosemary started trying to figure out what do with all of the valuable items she had accumulated.

“I knew that Neil really liked the tutoring — he’d call and tell us this one has done this and this one has done that, so when he said to me, if you want your stuff to help with literacy, this would be a good place to donate it, I thought it was a good choice,” she explains.

All in all, there are over 800 books and 11 boxes of teaching resources, including manuals and worksheets, and such teacher aids as mementoes they would bring back from family trips — “When I was a kid, we got used to checking if we could buy things in quantities of 26, to form a teacher set,” Neil Marchand says.

But this abundance amounted to its own problem: of course Congress would love the donation, but staff would need help to unpack and sort it.

So Neil Marchand asked his fellow Rotarians. “The Rotary Club’s motto is Service above Self, and they definitely have a strong interest in education. One example is, they offer the Strive scholarships for high school students where the student receives on-to-one mentoring and if they improve as they’ve promised to they get a scholarship to go to college. I went to them and asked if they would find a way to help deliver all of this.”

Rotary Club members volunteered, and last Friday about ten showed up to help unpack as well as to read to groups of Congress Elementary kids.

And Rosemary Marchand is delighted. “I’m especially glad they’ll have all the different kinds of books. I found out early on in teaching that kids don’t really want to read about Dick and Jane, so you keep trying until you find what each kid really wants to know about. And that gets them hooked into reading.”

It is clear that her passion for education did not stop with her students.   “For all three of my kids I had high goals, and they all followed different paths. I believe that any child can reach anything if they want it enough, you just have to give them the tools. But Neil is my first lawyer,” she adds proudly.

Marchand excelled in school, attending George Washington University for both his B.A. (which he received summa cum laude) and his J.D. (with honors).

He went from there to a clerkship with the Hon. Gordon J. Quist in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and also served as an intern in Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office as well as at the Federal Judicial Center and the General Services Administration. He then settled in at Miller Johnson as a litigator, with a focus on insurance coverage litigation. He was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2013 and 2014.

Rotary and Schools of Hope are just two of many projects he has pursued in his short career. He also serves on the executive committee of the American Inns of Court chapter, is heavily involved with Meijer Gardens, has assisted with legal information for domestic violence and sexual assault victims through WomensLaw.org, and received an award for his work with the British program KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now), which encourages exercise for youth with physical and mental disabilities.

Marchand says he hopes the materials donated will help the students thrive. which will honor his mother’s work. “I saw the need,” he says, “and I knew the items would help continue my mom’s legacy of teaching.”

 

 

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