“What would you do if you could do anything? If money were no object?” It’s a question most of us would have to sit with for a while — but not Mark and Deborah Prentiss.
Twelve years ago, while the pair were working as a chef and an educator, respectively, they were lounging in the office of a longtime attorney friend, chatting, when he asked them exactly that.
Without hesitation, they answered that they’d create an establishment dedicated to offering training and job opportunities for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Whimsically, they described their hypothetical venture and its goal of helping these individuals maintain employment and independence. The lawyer, intrigued, began floating suggestions. One was opening a charter school.
Two hours later, what began as vague musings had become a concrete plan. The following day, the Prentisses returned to meet with a Michigan Department of Education representative, who handed them a grant application.
Three years later, in the fall of 2013, they launched Rising Stars Academy — a postsecondary charter school in Center Line that provides hands-on career prep for students between 18 and 26. That first semester, the institution enrolled 26 students and offered programming in corrective reading, math, and culinary arts.
The academy now trains 115 students for careers in a range of industries. Program offerings include urban farming, studio recording, food processing, fiber arts, retail, pottery, and baking. One of the school’s more recent additions is a robotics program that launched in 2020 and allows participants to compete with their K-12 counterparts from across the nation.
“Over the years, we learned to diversify, because that allows us to offer more opportunities to more folks,” Mark says. In fact, they’re already eyeing several new programs. It is a constant quest for expansion, but luckily, the Prentisses have an indelible source of motivation.
“It’s our kids,” Mark says. “The things they achieve are incredible, and people don’t give them enough credit.”
Deborah points to one experience that sums it all up: “Each fall, we hold the Open House Culinary Showcase, where students show off their skills,” she says. “It’s always so rewarding to watch the parents see what their kids can do. And, in tears, they say, ‘I never knew my kid could do that.’”
Rising Stars Academy is currently accepting students for the 2022-23 school year. For a virtual tour, as well as enrollment and donation information, visit rising-stars-academy.org.
This story is from the August 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.