Registration Open For Norte’s 2020 Explore Academy

Norte’s Explore Academy once  again invites teens to learn and use their voice to shape their community.

Norte’s advocacy program is again offering teens a unique opportunity to explore their community and develop their own voice in shaping it. The Explore Academy is a six-week, student-informed practical course featuring an experiential understanding of how communities are planned, built, and changed over time.

“Explore is an excellent opportunity for teenagers to step out into the community and develop not only their understanding of how the community works – or doesn’t work – but also develop their voices and skills to work towards making the positive changes they see that are needed,” said Norte Advocacy Director, Gary Howe. Howe once again is teaming up with the owner of Parallel Solutions, Megan Olds, to facilitate the fall program.

Norte’s Explore Academy is open to all 13 to 18-year-olds interested in community leadership, planning, and development. Students will graduate with a heightened understanding of decision-making processes and advanced observational and communication skills. This year’s interactive sessions will be held online and include frequent break out sessions. Guest speakers will offer expertise and insight as students develop their interests. Last year’s session featured TART Trails Executive Director, Julie Clark, and BATA’s Transportation Planner and Planning Commissioner, Tyler Bevier. Some of the class meetups will be in-person physically distanced walking conversations—masks required for safety.

“In light of an ongoing public health crisis, continued community protests and marches, coastal flooding, wildfires, and against the backdrop of a national election, this year’s program is primed for some deep exploration and conversations focused on how design, policies, and investments in places impact and are impacted by these conditions,” said Olds. “I’m looking forward to hearing students’ thoughts and observations about whom and what they see impacted, how decisions are made, and what types of design and investments they feel matter most and why.”

The program’s weekly meetups begin September 28 and meet on Mondays from 4:30 to 5:30. The six sessions include an additional four-weeks of independent teamwork. The program costs $35 per participant, with plenty of scholarships available.   The 2020 Explore Academy is underwritten by the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® (TAAR) and a Smart Growth Grant from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). The Norte advocacy training program introduces teenagers to smart growth principles through its hands-on, active curriculum. Children of TAAR members are eligible for free registration.

“We’re excited to have the support of TAAR and their national partner, NAR. Their support allows us to offer an adaptable curriculum to more students by virtually eliminating any financial burden,” said Howe. “In response to the pandemic, we’ve needed to adapt the structure of the course, but not the key goals. Explore remains an engaging exploration of the neighborhoods of the Grand Traverse Region while doing our part to keep everyone safe, healthy, and to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

For more information and to register for Norte’s 2020 Explore Academy, please visit: Norte Explore Academy.

If you have questions about the program and for scholarship information, please contact Gary Howe at

If you’d like to make a $35 donation to sponsor a student, please go to

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Program Facilitators  

Megan Olds has dedicated her 20-year career to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. She was a former Director of Regional Planning at Networks Northwest and served as a past board member of the Michigan Association of Planning and Michigan’s Complete Streets Advisory Council. She worked for seven years as the Associate Director and Director of Development for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and clarity in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. You can find out more about her firm’s services, clients, and recent projects at

Gary Howe brings over ten years of direct experience in creating and advocating for public policy and planning processes that support healthy transportation and socially-engaging public spaces to his role as Norte’s Advocacy Director. He served as a City Commissioner for the City of Traverse City from 2013-2017, in addition to serving on the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Neahtawanta Center, SEEDS, and International Affairs Forum. He is also a writer and New York Times-published photographer with over 20 years of teaching experience in China, Taiwan, and Traverse City, including 15 years as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Michigan College.

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