You can say that theater is in Abby Pletcher’s blood. Her grandmothers and mother have been involved in the arts including theater arts and now Pletcher will follow in their footsteps making her directorial and producing debut this month with the production of “Little Women: The Broadway Musical.”
OK, so the show scheduled for July 28 and 29 at the Wealthy Theatre is not her first foray into directing. The home-school graduate has directed many shows over the last several years, if directing your cousins counts. She usually has directed one show each summer since the age of 10. Her first big show involved all the kids in her neighborhood, where she directed a place called “Hotel for Kids,” which was a re-write of the kids movie “Hotel for Dogs.”
All of the other shows Pletcher has directed have been with her willing, although sometimes, coersed cousins. These shows would be held at the family’s favorite annual reunion hotspot in Big Rapids.
Although Pletcher has directed about a dozen shows with youth, this will be her first time directing for a show that is in conjuction with Homeschool Performing Arts – or just HPA (as referenced by those who know the group closely). HPA is a theater group that produces shows every year in the communities of Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Kalamazoo. To be more specific the shows are performed in the theaters of the Caledonia, Charlotte, and Comstock Public Schools. The show’s cast, crew, make-up, lighting, sound, and music are all done by high school kids who are home schooled. Parents and other family members assist in making the costumes, sets, and running rehearsals, but the kids learn and perform the shows. The group was stared by Brad Garnaat back in 1997. Pletcher has been involved with HPA as a student since 2008 where she has had the opportunity to observe, learn, and grow as a thespian.
Show times for the “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” are 7 p.m. both days, July 28 and 29, at Wealthy Street Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St. SE. Tickets are $8. For tickets, click here. For more information about the production, visit www.hpami.org.
As he prepares his team for a state Senior Little League tournament hosted by District 9 Southern Little League this weekend — a tournament WKTV will be broadcasting — Southern manager Jamie Billo is glad to have several players who have “been there; done that.”
Not only will he get the on-field talent, but also the off-field wisdom, of five players who return from a team that won the state title and won three games in the Central Regional tournament last year before falling to an eventual national champion team from Illinois.
And that leadership was evident last weekend as the Southern team, after rolling through three games in the District 9 tournament, had to bounce back from a title-game loss to Georgetown to win the tournament.
That loss “taught the kids a valuable lesson — on any given day, if you do not play up to your capability you get beat,” Billo said in an interview with WKTV. “It (also) helps a lot (to have experienced players). They can explain to the kids there is no reason to have that ‘awe’ factor. It is just another baseball game. They also reinforce that they have to come to every game ready to play.”
Attend the games; watch them on WKTV
WKTV will also be at every District 9 game this weekend, ready to play. WKTV’s coverage crew will broadcast live Southern’s opening game Friday, July 14, at 7 p.m., and then also be live on Saturday for the team’s games at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m., depending on Friday results. All live games will be available on Comcast Cable Channel 24. Some later games will be taped-delayed.
Southern will open action against the District 16 representative from Onsted. The other teams in the tournament will be Portage, from District 2; Ypsilanti, District 3; Commerce, District 4; Taylor NW, District 5; and St. Clair, District 7.
All games will be at the Southern Little League field complex at 2525 Kalamazoo Ave. SW, just north of 28th Avenue. The title game will be Monday at 5:30 p.m. with a second title game to follow, if necessary.
The winner of the state tournament will play in the Central Regional tournament, along with teams from nine other Midwest states, in Peru, Ill.
The team and its coaches
The Southern team is an all-star team made up of players, age 15-16, selected by the coaches from four Senior level teams who played in the Southern Little League this season.
Billo is in his first year as head coach of the Senior team, but has coached Southern Little League teams for eight years. He is the junior varsity head football coach at East Grand Rapids.
“I have coached a lot of these kids over the last few years,” he said.
The players include, from Central Catholic High School, Myles Beale, a centerfielder and pitcher; Matt Moore, outfielder/catcher; Kyle Tepper, 3rd base/outfielder/pitcher; Luke Passinault, 2nd base/outfielder; Joe Collins, outfielder/pitcher; and Nate Trudeau, short stop.
From East Grand Rapids are Reilly O’Connor, infielder and pitcher; Micah Baermann pitcher/outfield; Billy Bernecker, 1st base/outfield; John Shelton lV, catcher; Jack Billo, 3rd base; Peter Kratt, outfield; Ryan Sullivan, pitcher; and Nick Lambert, pitcher.
Also on the team are, from Grand Rapids Christian, Keegan Batka, middle infielder and pitcher, and Luke Elzinga, 1st base/pitcher.
Shelton, who started on the EGR varsity team this season, will be the team’s clean-up hitter. Billo, the manager’s son, was a starter on last year’s team that won the state tournament, as was Lambert, Trudeau, Elzinga and Kratt. Also of note, Batka’s brother, Austin, pitches for the University of Michigan.
“John Shelton is huge part of the team, batting,” Billo said. “Peter Kraff is probably the vocal leader of the team and has a great bat. Jack (Billo) will hit from the 2-hole two and is very fast. Kegan Batka leads with RBIs.”
Pitching, however, is a little more of uncertainty for the team.
“The strength of the team is batting and defense,” Billo said. “Last year we had two pitchers who we could just roll the ball out to. This year we have a lot of pitching depth but no top pitchers, but we have eight guys we are confident of to put out there.”
In addition to Billo, the other coaches for the team are Jim Passinault and Pat Batka.
“When it comes to pitching, I defer to Pat, his sons are pitchers and he pitched. He calls all the pitches,” Billo said. “We have known each other, coaches against each other in the regular season. As manager, I could pick my coaches and I could not have picked two better ones.”
Greg Bryan and his wife, Beverly, watched as the City of Wyoming was forced to remove the city trees. First it was due to the Dutch Elm Disease which wiped out about 75 percent of North American’s elm trees by 1989.
Then in early 200s, it was the Emerald Ash Borer, an insect that is lethal to ash trees, with the City of Wyoming becoming part of a countywide Emerald Ash Borer Quarantine.
“They cutdown more than a 1,000 trees,” Bryan said. “My wife turned to me and said ‘We have to do something.’”
Bryan did. He helped establish the Wyoming Tree Commission and this week, in memory of his wife who passed way in the spring, he donated $10,000 to the commission to help get its fundraising efforts moving forward.
“We are in the process of raising funds,” Bryan said. “For many of the grants we are seeking, you need to have matching funds. I am hoping this will help in the group’s fundraising efforts.”
Just a year-old, the Wyoming Tree Commission’s focus has been centered on planting trees. It recently helped the city be named as a Tree City USA, a national movement formed in 1976 to provide the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees.
With that honor, the commission, named nicknamed the Tree Amigos, has been focusing on projects within the city including a collaboration with Wyoming Public Schools in developing a small orchard at West Elementary School.
Tree Commission Chairperson Stella Slootmaker, who also helped establish the Tree Commission, said during the commission’s recent meeting, that the group is working to raise funds by looking at various grant opportunities through the Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Farm to School Grant.
The Tree Commission also has sponsorships available at various levels, the Service Berry level, $100 – $499; the Silver Maple level, $500 – $999; and the Mighty Oak level, $1,000 or more. For more information about the Wyoming Tree Commission, email email@example.com.
Metro Health – University of Michigan Health will host Family Day Camp, an annual event for families coping with cancer, from 3-5 p.m. every Thursday afternoon, July 13 through Aug. 3. Camp will be held at The Cancer Center at Metro Health Village, 5950 Byron Center Ave. SW.
A free four-week program, Family Day Camp provides education and emotional support for families that have a loved one battling cancer.
“Family Day Camp is a fun, supportive environment that gives participants a chance to learn about cancer and its effect on the family,” says Metro Health – University of Michigan Health President and CEO Michael Faas. “It helps families form stronger bonds with each other, while also connecting with other families that understand what they’re going through.”
Each two-hour session will be packed with fun for all ages. The entire family is invited, from newborns to great-grandparents. Children may participate without an adult, though families are encouraged to attend together.
“We’ve gathered the best family fun activities from around Grand Rapids and brought them all to the Cancer Center at Metro Health,” says Laura Smith, Cancer Center director. “We want families to be able to have some fun together while someone they love is battling a disease.”
Activities and educational topics will vary depending on the day. Families can participate in one or all of the four sessions:
July 13: Someone I Love is Sick (about cancer)
July 20: Battling the Bad Guys (about cancer treatment)
July 27: I’m Still Me (about changes in loved ones and routines)
August 3: Happy or Sad, the Good and the Bad (how to express emotions and support each other)
Participants are invited to meet at the big tent beside the cancer center. There’s no charge and no need to register in advance.
Family Day Camp is hosted by Metro Health Child Life Services, a department that specializes in helping children cope with illness, injury and hospitalization. The annual camp is funded through donations to the Metro Health Hospital Foundation.
The City of Wyoming’s yard waste drop-off site will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. through Saturday, July 15 to allow for storm damage clean up. The drop-off site, located at 2660 Burlingame Ave. SW, will return to normal hours on Monday, July 17. The site is free to Wyoming residents and they are encouraged to continue assisting with the clean-up efforts.
The City will also be performing a city-wide pickup of branches and trunks starting today. All debris must be stacked neatly in the parkway areas between the curb and sidewalk. Homeowners are asked to have this material ready for pickup by Monday, July 17.
While this is not a regular service provided by the City, leaders feel it is necessary due to the severity of the storm. “We generally do not provide yard waste pick-up after weather events, unless they are extremely severe in nature such as last year’s tornado. There are extra costs associated with these services, and we always seek to use our resources in the most judicious ways,” said Curtis Holt, City Manager for the City of Wyoming. “Due to the severity of last weekend’s storm we feel we should assist residents to the extent we’re able. Our thanks go out to all of the residents who have already cleaned their properties and brought debris to our yard waste drop-off site. Their efforts are tremendously helpful and we hope they will continue to assist us.”
The cleanup effort will be performed by both City staff and contractors. City staff will be removing small piles of debris, while contractors will remove larger piles throughout this week and next. At this time, residents do not need to call Public Works to request pickups.
The Wyoming-Kentwood Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Government Matters meetings bring together government leaders of all levels and topics often range from local libraries to Washington. D.C. politics. You can see for yourself as WKTV replays the meetings.
At the July 10 meeting, discussion on the current state of healthcare reform took center stage as Greg VanWoerkom, district director for U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Michigan 2nd District), gave a status report to the other government officials and representatives.
“Really, all the eyes have been on the Senate the past two weeks, what their strategies are regarding healthcare, and we hope to hear more information on that this week, ” VanWoerkom said. “Everybody is watching every senator and what they are saying about it.”
Rep. Huizenga has consistently called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
“What we are seeing, with the Affordable Care Act, is that more and more people are not having options to purchase (medical insurance) in the individual market,” VanWoerkom said. “Counties, states, individual insurance companies are just dropping out of that exchange marketplace at a pretty good clip. … the Affordable Care Act is not working.”
To see the entire discussion, check out WKTV’s replay of the meeting (link below).
The Chamber’s Government Matters meetings include representatives of the cities of Kentwood and Wyoming, Kent County, local Michigan House of Representatives and Senate, and, often, representatives of other State of Michigan and federal elected officials. The next meeting will be Aug. 7 at Wyoming City Hall.
The meetings are on the second Monday of each month, starting at 8 a.m. WKTV Journal will produce a highlight story after the meeting. But WKTV also offers replays of the Monday meetings on the following Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Cable Channel 25. Replays are also available online at WKTV’s government meetings on-demand page (wktv.viebit.com) and on the chamber’s Facebook page.
Metro Health – University of Michigan Health is now giving away free of charge the life-saving medication, Narcan, to patients upon discharge who experience an accidental or intentional opioid overdose. These kits are funded through a generous grant from the Metro Health Hospital Foundation.
Opioids, like heroin and common prescription pain medications, have been associated with overdoses at epidemic levels nationally. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 people died because of opioids in 2015. The Center also reports that nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2015, Metro Health’s emergency department treated 285 drug overdoses with 190 of those being actual or potentially opioid related.
“Opioid use is on the rise, and so are overdoses,” said Dr. Marc Afman. “Overdoses can be accidental or intentional. We also know that if a person has one overdose, they are far more likely to have a second, and that one could be fatal. An overdose can happen to anyone. By distributing these kits, we are helping to save lives by providing education, community resources and Narcan; an antidote (reversal) for opioids.”
Metro Health – University of Michigan Health is distributing Narcan in nasal spray form. Narcan is a prescription medication used to reverse the dangerous life-threatening effects of opioids. An overdose is a medical emergency. Narcan does not take the place of emergency medical care, and 911 should be called when it is used.
The hospital’s goals for distributing these kits include:
eliminating the need for the patient to travel to a pharmacy to fill a prescription for Narcan;
removing any financial barriers that would prohibit a patient from obtaining a kit at a pharmacy;
educating the patient and caregivers regarding appropriate use; and
reducing the amount of deaths in the community related to opiate overdoses.
“At Metro, we want to be clear about one thing: we do not encourage the improper use of opioid drugs; rather, we recognize that Narcan used immediately by family and friends could save the life of someone they hold dear,” said Pete Haverkamp RPh. “We recognize that not all overdose victims are using illegal drugs, and whatever the cause of the overdose, we want to provide life-saving tools to those who may need it the most.”
“Our mission at Metro Health – University of Michigan Health is to improve the health and well being of our communities,” said President and CEO Michael Faas. “The focus of this program is to be proactive and do what we can to curb the spread of this health epidemic. That’s why we are so pleased to provide these kits—free—to patients upon discharge who have overdosed on an opioid.”
Each Narcan kit includes two doses of the spray. Instructions are printed in English, Bosnian and Spanish. Also included in the kit are instructions indicating how to recognize an overdose, initiating emergency response by calling 911, and how to administer the life-saving medication, Narcan. Additional information includes a list of community resources where an individual, or family member, can find local help, including support groups, shelter, food, addiction services, crisis lines and counseling.
Many college students live in a sort of societal cocoon, inside the walls of their schools and surrounded by their friends and classmates. Some are barely able to decide what classes they want to take each year, let alone their career path. They often change their majors multiple times as they progress through their late teens and early 20s.
Grace Bible College’s Kate Shellenbarger is not your ordinary college student. No less a witness than Wyoming Police Det./Lt. James Maguffee would testify to that fact.
Soon after she arrived at Grace, the soon-to-be junior at the Wyoming college ventured off campus and waded into the murky midst of a possible local example of the nationwide problem of human sex trafficking — and her determination to “do something” about it has brought her recognition from the City of Wyoming Department of Public Safety.
She also has decided that combatting the problem of human trafficking is the educational and career path she is driven to by her small-town upbringing, her Christian-based morals, and her ever-expanding world view.
Shellenbarger already had some knowledge of the human trafficking issue, from her high school, having been involved with the “One Dress, One Month” idea, where someone wears the same plain dress for a month to invite people to open a discussion on the issue. She brought the “One Dress” idea to her new college, but then she amped up her advocacy.
“I come from a small town in Ohio, so it was different there than it is here, in a big city, like Grand Rapids,” Shellenbarger said in an interview with WKTV. “When I came here, I had a friend who I talked with, talked to her about human trafficking. She was the one who saw something and told me and we said, ‘Lets look up and see what this particular business is.’ It looks kind of sketchy to me.”
It was a massage parlor that attracted their attention — a business that can often be legitimate and operated by law-abiding persons, but can also be the location of illegitimate but hard-to-prove criminal activities such as prostitution. And where there is prostitution there is often human trafficking.
“I got kind of mad,” Shellenbarger said. “I knew it was right down the road. I didn’t understand why it was happening right in front of my face — right here and right down the road. So I called the police. … I was hoping they were already doing something about it. That was my hope.”
Working with local authorities; not just complaining
It was then that she began her discussions with the City of Wyoming Department of Public Safety, specifically Maguffee.
This story “is a 20-something college student cold-calling the police department and waiting until she got to the right extension to talk to somebody — there is patience involved even with that,” Maguffee said. “Really, it is just a willingness to call and have a discussion with your local law enforcement about your concerns, and see where that conversation goes. In this case, … [Shellenbarger] and I talked and we had mutual concerns, things we had both seen. But instead of her just making it a ‘I’m making a complaint, now go do something about it!’, she and I were able to say, ‘Hey, what can we do together?’. What can we do next? That’s when the conversation really can get going.”
Through Maguffee, and others, she learned more about the problem and local groups working on the problem of human sex trafficking. (For more information on the subject of human sex trafficking, including a WKTV Journal — In Focus discussion with Wyoming police department’s representative on two groups battling the problem and a link to an award-winning locally produced documentary, “Stuck In Traffic”, see related story here.)
Much of what Shellenbarger found out, many of the avenues she saw to get involved, frustrated her.
“I wanted to do something right now, and a lot of them were ‘You can do this when you get this degree’ or ‘You can do this when you turn this age’,” she said. “I was getting frustrated, but then I found S.O.A.P.”
Other groups working on the problem
Shellenbarger’s discussion with Maguffee led her to the Kent County Human Trafficking Taskforce, a Western Michigan victim-advocacy group which includes the local chapter of Women at Risk International (WAR). (For more information on an upcoming conference led by representatives of WAR, see related story here.)
And a seemingly small activity working with WAR during the 2015 run of ArtPrize led Schllenbarger to “do something now” — she decided to volunteer with WAR and other local groups working on the S.O.A.P. Project (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), to deliver soap to area hotels and motels — soap wrapped in paper with the telephone number of a hotline to help victims report and escape trafficking crimes.
“There were a lot of people — men and women and kids, all helping to package soap,” she said. “There were a group of girls from Grand Valley (State University) helping me pass out the soap.”
Working with WAR’s S.O.A.P. project in 2015, inspired her to lead a can drive to raise funds for the 2016 S.O.A.P. project — both at her college and, with Maguffee’s help, throughout the City of Wyoming. That combined effort led to about 4,000 cans and about $400 to buy soap to be distributed to motels and southern Kent County.
It also led to Shellenbarger being honored this March at Wyoming Department of Public Safety’s annual award ceremony, and to her deciding to change her educational and career path.
“It boosted my confidence a lot. I showed me that I can do something right now, even being a broke college student, I can do whatever I put my mind to,” she said. “As far as my career, I wasn’t planning on doing anything associated with criminal justice — I was going to get into human services, to be a child psychologist. But that changed once I realized how passionate I was about this.”
She added that she hopes to work with Wyoming Police Department through a college internship, then, maybe, go to work with the FBI, or a nonprofit in the field, or doing research on the issue, she said.
As far as her continued work with the Wyoming Police Department, Maguffee said he would not be surprised by anything Schllenbarger does.
“To me, this is the important moral of this, especially for people like … [Shellenbarger] and other young people who are interested in getting started and making a change,” he said. “It is really patience over the long term.
“The cynic could talk about her and say that [only a little was accomplished] through a lot of effort — collecting $400 and buying toiletries with a hotline number on them and distributing them to hotels. That’s a great thing. And my hope is that some exploited individual will call one of those numbers and get some help.
“But even if that doesn’t happen, all of this is worth it because a group of young people at Grace Bible College are saying ‘Hey, there are some things going on that we can have an impact on’.”
For real-time updates from the City of Wyoming, go here.
The City of Wyoming’s yard waste drop-off site will be open 24/7 through the weekend to allow for storm damage clean up.
The drop-off site, located at 2660 Burlingame Ave. SW, will return to normal hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, July 10. The site is free to Wyoming residents. Go here for more info.
The City is currently working to repair storm damage as quickly as possible. Trees blocking a roadway or a power line can be reported to non-emergency dispatch at 616.530.7300, ext. 1. For information on power outages, go here.
For more information, follow the City on Twitter @WyomingCityHall and on Facebook here.
As of 11:30 am, the City of Wyoming has issued a PARK CLOSURE & STORM DAMAGE UPDATE: Please exercise caution when visiting any park or trail during this weekend.
BUCK CREEK TRAIL. Closed.
PINERY PARK: Closed.
HILLCROFT PARK: Playground & shelter closed. Trail and general park area open.
LAMAR PARK: One section area closed. Disc golf open. All other areas of park, including splash pad are open.
ORIOLE PARK: No power – splash pad not working as a result. All other areas are open.
DOG PARK: Overhanging tree limb over access road requires caution – avoid. Dog park is open.
FROG HOLLOW: No power. Playground open.
LEMERY PARK: No power. Playground, tennis courts, active play areas open. Buck Creek trail closed.
From the City of Wyoming: “We cannot anticipate and identify all concerns immediately. Again, look up & down when visiting any park or trail following storm events. Exercise caution and report (message) any concerns.”
For real-time updates from the City of Kentwood, go here.
City of Kentwood crews are cleaning up debris and fallen trees on city streets and sidewalks. Remember, it is the property owner’s responsibility to clean any debris from your yard. At this time, Kentwood does not have debris drop-off, but they are currently assessing the situation.
The City of Kentwood reminds residents to contact Consumers Energy if you see a downed line. Downed Line phone number is 800.477.5050 — and stay at least 25 ft away from the line. More information about what to do with a downed line can be found here.
Consumer’s Energy is working to restore power. Please check their outage map for more about your location.
As of 10 a.m. today, Friday, July 7, Kent County Emergency Management has been working since the early morning hours to determine the severity of storm damage throughout the County. Thus far, no injuries have been reported due to storm damage in Kent County.
Public works crews throughout the County are working to remove debris in roadways and utility crews are working to repair downed power lines.
More than 50,000 people lost power in Kent County this morning.
“Because of the busy activity of our responders, we are not going to run the monthly siren tests throughout Kent County at noon today,” said Jack Stewart, Emergency Management Coordinator for Kent County. “Monthly testing will resume August 4. We want to focus today’s efforts on the more immediate needs of our communities.”
Kent County Road Commission has additional crews working to remove large trees from roads.
“Much of the work is from Five Mile Road through southern Kent County at this time,” said Jerry Byrne, Director of Operations of the Kent County Road Commission. “Right now, the Alto area has significant damage, with trees in the road on Whitneyville Avenue and on Buttrick Aveune SE. If you see our crews, please either turn around or proceed with caution.”
Central dispatch in Kent County has been
busy responding to calls all morning. Kent Count Emergency Management staff reminds residents:
If you see a downed power line, do not approach it!!! Call 911.
If you have lost power, report it to your energy provider either by phone or online.
If you plan to use a power generator, follow manufacturer instructions. DO NOT use a generator in the garage or basement of a home and make sure there is good clearance for exhaust to move away from your home. Carbon monoxide, the gas that is produced by a generator, can be odorless, tasteless and deadly.
Now is a good time to make sure you have a plan for storm-related damage. Make sure you have a week’s supply of water, several days of non-perishable food, flashlights/batteries, a first aid kit, and a weather radio. Several apps are available for smartphones, including weather warning apps and incident preparation apps.
A recent discussion on whether to sign a pack on its comment to reduce greenhouse emissions has lead officials of the City of Wyoming to the discovery that the city does quite a lot in helping to reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainability.
“It is part of our DNA,” said Mayor Jack Poll at a recent council meeting on June 19. “We are very conscious of everything we do in the City of Wyoming that we are as green as possible and save funds in different areas as best as possible.”
One of the items the city does not have is an inventory of all its efforts, which staff and officials are currently working to put together.
Many municipalities — locally and across the nation — have been having the discussion on greenhouse gases and carbon footprint on the environment as an outcome of President Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull the United States out of The Paris Agreement or Paris Climate Accord. This is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.
A reaction to this decision has been local residents asking their city and state representatives what those governments are doing to reduce emissions. Poll said several individuals have reached out to the City of Wyoming, asking where the city stands on this issue and have suggested agreements or packs the city could sign.
“There are agreements out there now that they are asking the City of Wyoming to sign on to and some of those agreements if you go in and sign on, the City of Wyoming could be held financially responsible for not doing some things,” Poll said, adding city officials did not want to lock the city into something that it would not have a lot of control over.
However, by looking over such agreements as the Compact of Mayors, which was established in 2014 a year before the Paris Climate Accord was signed, city leaders found that within many of its own projects and various ones in the city, the city has been environmentally aware.
“The City of Wyoming has a long history of being environmentally conscious and it starts with things like our bio-solids land application program, our yard waste program that we have for disposal of yard waste and reuse of yard waste rather than disposing of it,” said City Manager Curtis Holt during the June 19 council meeting. “We recently have done things related to LED traffic lights. As many of you know we do a four-day week in the city of Wyoming and part of that was to close our buildings for one day a week and we have estimated in the past that has been a savings of roughly $50,000 a year in energy costs for the city.”
The city also has a formal sustainability policy that was developed a couple of years ago that the council takes into consideration on every resolution it adopts, using it as guidance related to the economic, social and environmental impacts of that particular issue that they are dealing with, Holt said. City officials also have seen a lot of LEED certification of buildings within the City of Wyoming.
“I am really very proud to live in a city that we do a lot of those things without out a formal agreement in place telling us to,” said Second Ward Council Member Marissa Postler. Postler said she would proposed the city make a compact with itself to keep track of what the city is doing, which is what she liked most about the Compact of Mayors was keeping track and being accountable.
The Compact of Mayors has four components to it, a city would have to register its commitment; take inventory on its current impact on climate change; create a reduction, targets and establish a system of measures; and establish an action plan within the city planning for how the city will make a commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions and adapt to climate change.
Holt said he believes the City of Wyoming would do very well achieving the goals of something like the Compact of Mayors, however; there would be some costs involved in doing so.
None of the council members were in full support of spending dollars and some raised concerns about spending too much staff time on building the report, however; Poll said he believed it would not take that much time and would mostly those involve those who are handling various projects to put together an inventory of what the city is currently working on and what it has accomplished.
The Wyoming City Council July 3 meeting has been cancelled and the next city council meeting is July 17 at 7 p.m. at Southlawn Park, 4125 Jefferson Ave. SE.
The Salvation Army Kroc Center is holding a series of “Family Fun & Fitness Nights” during the month of July, on Wednesdays (July 5, 12, 19, 26). All events are free to both members and non-members.
This event will feature an all-ages fitness class in the Kroc’s outdoor amphitheater at 5:45pm. Classes will include Zumba, Urban Kick, Family Fit, and Family Boot Camp.
Once the class is over, kids and parents alike can cool off on the Kroc Center’s giant slip & slide from roughly 6:30 to 8:30pm.
Kroc staff and volunteers will also offer face painting and concessions; local organizations will also have tables with information and activities for families.
“We are excited to bring back Family Fun & Fitness Nights this summer,” said Lieutenant Bill Brutto, senior officer for The Salvation Army Kroc Center. “We love giving families the opportunity to get active and enjoy time together in a fun and safe environment.”
Family Fun & Fitness Nights are made possible through financial support from Molina Healthcare of Michigan.
The event will be cancelled in the event of heavy rain or lightning. Visit www.grkroccenter.org or call 616-588-7200 for more information.Free
According to the local chapter of Women at Risk International (WAR), Michigan is one of the leading states for human sex trafficking. In many instances, hotels and motels, in both rural and urban areas, are prime locations for such activity.
And, when there are major influxes of people — including during major Grand Rapids area tourist events such as ArtPrize — instances of trafficking increase locally as well, also according to WAR.
The U.S. Department of State defines human sex trafficking as the “recruiting, harboring, transportation, providing, or obtaining of a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through force, fraud, or coercion.”
Human trafficking affects over 20 million victims worldwide — according to the Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C., based group battling human trafficking — with a total market value of over $32 billion. More than 1.2 million children are trafficked each year and this epidemic affects at least 161 countries worldwide. Between 100,000 and 300,000 underage girls are sold for sex in the United States every year.
“The act of prostitution is not new … in ancient civilizations there was prostitution … and sex trafficking is not new,”the act just used to be called “pimping,” said Detective Sgt. Julie Waters-Adams, the City of Wyoming Department of Public Safety’s representative on two groups combatting human trafficking in Western Michigan. “It is not a new crime, but as law enforcement we are looking at it differently. … As a society and law enforcement, we are looking at it differently. We are looking at the reasons why someone may engage in prostitution. And that is my not be their choice.”
Det./Sgt. Waters-Adams represents Wyoming on WEBCHEX, the West Michigan Based Child Exploitation team, as well as the Kent County Human Trafficking Taskforce. The first is a law enforcement focused group including federal, state and local agencies; the second is a local group generally more focused on helping victims escape the trade — part of the “different” way to look at the crime and battle it.
(For a YouTube video on Det./Sgt. Waters-Adams talking with WKTV Journal — In Focus, go here.
To view the West Michigan-based, Eclipse Award winning, docmumentary “Stuck in Traffic” by Rich Jackson and Lisa Zahodne, follow this link.
Another member of the Western Michigan victim-advocacy taskforce is the local chapter of WAR.
Kent County is taking advantage of both its Triple A Bond Rating and favorable interest rates to refund two separate bonds originally sold in 2007 and 2008. By combining the two issues, the County will save an estimated $4.0 million in interest payments on a nominal basis.
In 2007, Kent County issued $27 million in Building Authority Bonds to acquire, construct, furnish, and equip the Human Services Complex on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids. The following year, the County issued $14.3 million in Capital Improvement Bond to make improvements at the Kent County Fuller Campus and to acquire land and construct a building for 63rd District Court on the East Beltline in Grand Rapids Township. Since the issuance of the two bonds, interest rates have significantly declined so that it now is opportune time to refund both bonds and take advantage of associated interest rate savings.
High bond ratings – similar to high credit scores when buying a house – can have an impact on the rate of interest charged. County Administrator/Controller Daryl Delabbio, who is retiring in June of this year, credits the hard work of his Fiscal Services staff for the savings. “The staff, led by Fiscal Services Director Steve Duarte, have kept the County’s credit rating strong over the years,” Delabbio said. “When people ask, ‘Why is a Triple A credit rating important,’ it’s great to be able to point to projects and issues like this and say, ’Here is one reason.’”
“Daryl and his staff have provided great leadership over the past two decades, setting a solid foundation for economic policies and fiscal responsibility,” said Board of Commissioners’ Chair Jim Saalfeld. “This Board is fortunate to have elected and appointed leaders that look for ways to deliver services in the most effective and efficient manner, saving our residents and businesses money in the long-term.”
In June rating agencies S&P Global and Moody’s Investors Service affirmed the long-term Triple-A credit ratings for Kent County, marking the 19th consecutive year of this distinction. Credit ratings from these agencies are important in allowing local units of government to borrow money at lower interest rates, reducing costs to the average tax payer.
Kentwood-based building materials and supply company Lumbermen’s, has acquired Michigan Prestain, a manufacturer of prefinished wood products. The sale involving the local companies was finalized June 9. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The merged entity will produce and distribute products under the “Great American Spaces” brand.
Lumbermen’s, located at 4433 Stafford Ave. SE, in Kentwood, and Michigan Prestain have had a successful partnership for nearly two years with Lumbermen’s distributing Michigan Prestain products, including Easy Barnwood.
Michigan Prestain was founded in 1989 by Greg Troutt. At the time of the acquisition, the company had nearly 30 employees working out of a 66,000-square foot manufacturing facility on Roger B Chaffee Drive in Wyoming. All Michigan Prestain employees will continue to work out of this facility.
Troutt intends to stay with Lumbermen’s to develop new products and support the combined sales team as the company continues to increase sales with current dealers as well as new networks across the country.
Lumbermen’s is 100 percent employee owned and strives to be the first choice of building materials for its customers. The company has 400 employees working at locations across Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and northern Kentucky.
Acquisition of Michigan Prestain meets Lumbermen’s strategic vision to diversify its products and offerings, as well as its focus on value-added services in its Building Materials division.
“We are thrilled to add Michigan Prestain to our already diverse product offering,” said Steve Petersen, president of Lumbermen’s. “There is a natural synergy between our companies. We’re excited about the growth opportunities and value it will bring to our customers, as well as what it will mean to our employee owners.”
Hearing him talk at a Silent Observer press conference Tuesday detailing four cold cases, you get the feeling that City of Wyoming police Lt. Mark Easterly, and the city’s detectives, take missing persons cases personally.
When discussing the case of Gerardo DeJesus Hipolito-Lopez, who went missing from a 28th Street bar nearly six years ago, Lt. Easterly did not call the missing person “Mr. Hipolito-Lopez”; instead repeatedly personalizing the man by calling him simply “Gerardo.”
“On November 20th, 2011, Gerardo had been drinking at a 28th Street bar with a family member,” Lt. Easterly said at the June 27 meeting at Silent Observer’s downtown Grand Rapids office. “When they exited the bar that night, their vehicle wouldn’t start. At that point, the family member he was with went to nearby home to get another vehicle. At that time, Gerardo was waiting at the bar, and when the family member returned, he was gone.”
And the Lieutenant also made clear why the Wyoming police department and other regional investigators are asking for the public’s help, for tips, for anything that can push a case forward.
“Hopefully with that one tip, it will lead to something else — that will lead to something else,” he said. “And, hopefully, we can bring some closure to this family. It is just heartbreaking to see a family waiting, three, four, five — in this case 6 years. … It is very important (to the family that the police are still investigating). It at least gives them the sense that, not relief, but at least we are still looking. This is not a cold case that just goes away. Our detectives are very invested in this process.”
Also at the Silent Observer event, the Grand Rapids Police Department and the Kent County Sheriff Department asked for the public’s help to either locate or determine why three other missing individuals went missing.
In addition to the case of Hipolito-Lopez, who was 56 years old when he disappeared, another case highlighted also had a Wyoming-area connection — the missing person case of Yvonne Renee Scott, who was 33 when she disappeared from 2900 block of Clyde Park Southwest in January 2004. The case is being investigated by the Kent County Sheriffs office.
Silent Observer is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the safe return of these missing people of, if a crime has been committed against them, the reward will be offered for information leading to the arrest of those involved in that crime.
“When the community is asked for help, in giving information, and help solve a crime, tips come pouring into the program,” Silent Observer Program Director Chris Cameron said. “We are hopeful we will receive some good leads from this initiative … tips to Silent Observer can help right the wrongs of others, and help the loved ones of those missing find answers, closure and possibly justice.”
Grand Rapids Chief of Police David Rahinksy also stressed the importance of the public’s assistance.
“People don’t just disappear,” Chief Rahinsky said. “These are four cases, four family members, you have the Kent County Sheriffs Office represented, Wyoming public safety and Grand Rapids police department. We have exhausted our ability to work these cases through traditional means. What we need is the public’s help. Somebody in the community knows what happened to these individuals. Regardless of how insignificant the information may be, it may be the piece that gives these families closure.”
To submit an anonymous tip to Silent Observer, call 616-774-2345 or toll free at 1-866-774-2345, or visit silentobserver.org. The City of Wyoming Department of Public Safety Detective Bureau can be reached at 616-530-7335.
Once again the City of Wyoming gets the West Michigan Fourth of July celebrations started with its annual WY-FI (Wyoming fireworks) event tonight at Lamar Park, 2561 Porter St. SW.
The evening, which is part of the city’s Concerts in the Parks series, starts at 7 p.m. and includes two concerts featuring the Sweet J Band and the Brena Band, followed by fireworks at dusk. There also will be giveaways, face painting and food from area restaurants.
A familiar foursome, the Sweet J Band has been performing the Greater Grand Rapids for more than 15 years at such venues as the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The group includes Matt Young, lead guitar and vox, Colin Tobin, lead vox and guitar, Matt Kok, bass and xo and Brian V, drums. The group performs music from the sixties to current and covers blues, rock, and soul.
The Brena Band also hails from Grand Rapids having performed in and around the area. The group offers a range of musical genres, however, expect to pretty much rock out at tonight’s concert as the group gets everyone ready for the fireworks.
The Wyoming Community Enrichment Commission, which organizes the Concerts in the Park, recommends attendees be at Lamar Park by 6:30 p.m. There is plenty of parking on-site. The concert and the parking are free.
Did you know that WKTV televises the Wyoming-Kentwood Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Government Matters meetings? Well we do, and if you had caught this month’s meeting you would know that Kent County is in the search process for a new county administrator.
“Our biggest news (at Kent County), probably in terms of administration and operation, is that our administrator, Daryl Delabbio, after being there 19 years, is retiring,” County Commissioner Harold Mast said at the June 12 meeting. “His last day of work, I think, will be the 27th or 28th of this month (June). Temporally, our interim administrator will be (assistant administrator) Wayman Britt. … but we are moving pretty methodically and carefully in terms of recruitment and selection of a successor to Daryl.”
Mast told the meeting attendees that the county hopes to have selected a recruitment firm by the end of this month and then that firm will be spend several months to find possible candidates.
“The objective is to have someone (new) onboard by the first quarter of next year,” Mast said.
The county will host a retirement ceremony for Delabbio on June 27 at the outer lobby of the DeVos Performance Hall. The event is open to the public and will run from 3-6 p.m., with remarks at 5 p.m.
The Chamber’s Government Matters meetings include representatives of the cities of Kentwood and Wyoming, Ken County, local Michigan House of Representatives, and, often, representatives of other State of Michigan and federal elected officials.
The meetings are on the second Monday of each month, starting at 8 a.m. WKTV Journal will produce a story each week soon after the meeting. But WKTV also offers replays of the Monday meetings on the following Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Cable Channel 25. Replays are also available online at WKTV’s government meetings on-demand page (wktv.viebit.com) and on the chamber’s Facebook page.
The Wyoming City Council granted the requested tax exemptions for the new owner of the former Klingman’s/Rogers Department Store building and a future tenant of that building at its Monday night council meeting at Lamar Park.
Earlier this month, the council approved a commercial redevelopment act district which included the former Klingman’s building located on 28th Street. At last night’s meeting, the council received no comment at a public hearing for the commercial facilities tax exemption which was for GR 1001, LLC, owned by The Hinman Company, the owner of the former Klingman’s building. The exemption is for the redevelopment of the facility, located at 1001 28th St., SW and is for a period of 12 years. City staff noted that The Hinman Company would spend between $3 – $5 million in renovations on the site.
“The new roof is going up as we speak,” said Elizabeth Slane, regional property manager at The Hinman Company, during public comments at the meeting. Slane said they are excited about being a part of the City of Wyoming adding that her son currently lives in the city and that that her husband is a 1977 Wyoming Park graduate.
The Wyoming City Council also approved a personal property tax exemption for seven years for Advantage Sales & Marketing, a future tenant for the building. The exemption is for an estimated $845,000 in personal property for a duration of seven years with an option for an additional five years. Advantage Sales & Marketing plans to consolidate its two current offices, one in downtown Grand Rapids and the other in Cascade Township, which will bring an estimated 300 jobs along with adding another 100 new jobs.
Advantage Sales & Marketing is a sales and marketing company that was founded in 1987 in Southern California and now has 120 offices in the United States and Canada. Its only Michigan offices are in the Greater Grand Rapids area, according to its website.
An official from the company indicated that they too were excited to be a part of the City of Wyoming. According to reports from the city, renovations to the building are to be completed in January 2018 and Advantage Sales & Marketing has indicated it would move in at that time.
Opened by Hyman “Hy” Berkowitz in 1955, Rogers Department Store was touted as one of the largest department stores in Michigan. However changes in shopping and the opening of RiverTown Mall impacted the store, with it closing in 2005. In 2008, Klingman’s, a furniture store, moved into the site, only to close two years later with the building being empty every since.
News broke of The Hinman Company’s interest in redeveloping the site when the company sent a letter to the city in May.
It was a beautiful night to visit a park, have some ice cream and attend a Wyoming City Council meeting, which is what several people did on Monday evening at Lamar Park.
For the first time, the Wyoming City Council moved its meeting outdoors to the park in an effort to connect more with the citizens of Wyoming, according to Mayor Jack Poll. Those who attended were treated to an ice cream.
“This is just great,” Poll said from the stage as about the fourth citizen made his way up to the podium to speak. “This is just the type of forum we were hoping for.”
More than half a dozen residents made comments at the end of the meeting from thanking the city for help with such projects as the new light at 44th Street and Burlingame Avenue and working with the Wyoming Community Enrichment Commission on the Concerts in the Park programs to discussing topics of concern such as the Paris Accord, a concern over a home being rented out, and the condition of West Lake and West Pond.
“This is like a dream come true for me,” said Councilor Dan Burrill, who added he has enjoyed looking out from the stage, to the sights and sounds of the park while at the meeting.
“It is a great opportunity for us to get into our community,” Poll said, acknowledging that many people don’t always want to head indoors for a meeting, especially on a nice summer day.
The council followed its normal meeting procedures, starting at 7 p.m., with Poll explaining each segment, like he does at the regular council meetings. The council went through its regular agenda which included approving tax exemptions for GR 1001, LLC, which is taking over the former Klingman’s/Rogers Department Store and for Advantage Sales & Marketing which is planning to move its operations into the building around the beginning of 2018.
The council meets every first and third Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at its chambers in Wyoming City Hall, 1155 28th St. SW. The meetings are broadcast live on WKTV Channel 26 and rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
The Wyoming City Council will host two more outdoor meetings this summer. The next is scheduled for July 17 at 7 p.m. at Southlawn Park, 4125 Jefferson Ave. SE. For more information about city activities, meetings, and events, visit www.wyomingmi.gov.
Wyoming High School’s new head football coach will be Irvin Sigler III,a Michigan Man who comes to the school after most recently serving as the offensive coordinator at Division III Hope College, Wyoming Public Schools announced today at a mid-day press conference.
Sigler was a graduate assistant at University of Michigan in the early 1990s while earning his master’s degree.
Sigler will succeed as Sam Becker, who left Wyoming after two years to take the head coaching position at Kenowa Hills High School. Becker took over a Wolves program that had a combined 1-17 record in the two years prior and led them to records of 3-6 in 2015 and 5-4 in 2016.
“Coach Sigler provides us the opportunity to build upon work already started rather than to start over,” Wyoming Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Reeder said in supplied material. “He will take the program to an even higher level.”
Sigler will be the high school’s dean of students as well as leading the Wolves football program.
“As I told the kids this morning,” Sigler said at the press conference. “There are three things I strive to do, when I work with young people: Number 1 to be a great roll model, two to be a great teacher, and three to be the kind of coach that gets the best out of every player. That’s my goal, here, and I intend to do it for a long time. I intend to make a home here at Wyoming.”
Sigler has coached at both the high school and collegiate levels.
Prior to Hope College, he was an assistant head football coach and assistant track coach at Grand Rapids Christian schools, from 2013-15. He served as head football coach at Jenison High School from 2008-12. His prior coaching experiences include Kell High School in Marietta, Ga., Grandville High School from 1998-2004, and Cadillac High School from 1993-97.
In addition to his head coaching duties, Sigler has experience teaching both physical education and Social Studies.
“Outside of getting an excellent football coach, one of the things that is most exciting is the additional things that Coach Sigler brings to the table,” Wyoming Public Schools Athletic Director Ted Hollern said in supplied material.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for our community and all our kids,” Hollern said at the press conference. “Some of the initiatives that he has done in the past that he will bring to Wyoming, will be absolutely terrific, especially in regards to his leadership programs … academic programs he plans on bringing, that he has brought to other schools, that he plans on bringing to Wyoming high school. … And one of his biggest goals is for the opportunity to teach young people to become great citizens.”
Sigler’s coaching accomplishments, in addition to his time at U-M, include MHSAA Regional Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2003 while at Grandville, the MHSFCA Community Service Award in 2009. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from Adrian College in 1990 and his Master of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan in 1992.
Sigler’s wife Erin is a sixth-grade teacher at Bauerwood Elementary in Jenison. They have four children: Tyler, Caden, Sydney and Riley.
Nearly 70 restaurants will participate in Restaurant Week Grand Rapids, which is set to take place Aug. 9 – 20, with more than 10 new restaurants such as Indian Masala Restaurant on 28th Street, participating this year.
The annual event includes the popular Ganders Grand Rapids located in the Double Tree by Hilton, 4747 28th St. SE. and several restaurants close to the Wyoming/Kentwood area such as Indian Masala, 5769 28th St. SE; Aryana Restaurant, 5700 28th Street; and FireRock Grille, 7177 Kalamazoo Ave. SE.
New to the event this year are more than 25 participating locations that will be offering a lunch option. Lunch will include two courses for $14.
“By adding lunch, we are inviting more individuals to dine out and ‘Taste the City’ during Restaurant Week,” said Experience Grand Rapids Marketing Director Kate Herron. “Going into our eighth year, we are excited to add something new to entice more people to check out our participating restaurants.”
During RWGR, most of the participating restaurants will continue to offer dinner options with either a three-course menu for $28 per person or a menu for two people who can dine for $28.
RWGR not only promotes the Greater Grand Rapids culinary scene, but also helps selected students from The Secchia Institute for Culinary Education with educational support. Since 2010, Restaurant Week participating restaurants and sponsors have contributed more than $110,000 to the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education’s Student Scholarship fund at GRCC. Participating restaurants donate $1 for every Restaurant Week meal sold to the scholarship fund, which then provides grants to selected students within the Institute’s culinary program.
For more about Restaurant Week Grand Rapids, click here.
Big names in teaching in Kent County – Michigan Teachers of the Year for 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 – have joined forces to share the best ways to engage students and get them to achieve at high levels.
A cohort of 12 teachers, including six from Kent County and six from the metro-Detroit area, met over the past year to achieve National Board Certification, recently submitting their work, which is similar to a Ph.D. thesis, for final consideration. Certification results will be available in early December.
Kent County teachers, who met at Kent ISD, are:
Luke Wilcox, math teacher at East Kentwood High School and 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year
Dave Stuart, history and English teacher at Cedar Springs High School and 2017-2018 Michigan Teacher of the Year finalist
Chris Painter, math teacher at Cedar Springs High School
Tracy Horodyski, reading interventionist and instructional coach at Zinser Elementary School and 2016-2017 Michigan Teacher of the Year from Kenowa Hills Public Schools
Heather Gauck, special education teacher at Harrison Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids Public Schools
Shantel VanderGalien, English teacher at Wyoming Junior High
The teachers received scholarships from the Michigan Department of Education to pursue the 25-year-old certification in partnership with the Michigan National Board Certified Teachers Network. National Board Certified teachers are under-represented in Kent County, and getting more of them certified is part of an effort to help Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years, said Cheryl Corpus, an NBCT consultant for the Michigan organization and a National Board Certified teacher in English as a New Language. To date, more than 112,000 teachers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have achieved National Board Certification.
Certification a Plus for Students
The credential is considered a hallmark of accomplishment across the state and nationally, Corpus said. The certification process involves teachers learning from each other, reflecting and sharing practices and promoting high standards. Together, they watch videos of each other’s teaching and reflect on evidence of effective instruction. The process was facilitated by Corpus and Christina Gilbert, a Godfrey Elementary School teacher who is National Board Certified.
Historically, National Board Certified teachers outperform their non-certified peers in improving student achievement, Corpus said.
“When teachers come together and reflect on their instruction, students and practices, it’s one of the most powerful and meaningful professional learning opportunities in our career,” Corpus said. “It’s that culture of reflection, problem-solving and becoming lifelong learners.”
Teachers said they have improved their practice as a result, becoming more deeply in tune with their students.
“I have gained so much from the process,” Vandergalien said. “I had to record lessons to submit and that was such a valuable tool. I really enjoyed being able to capture excellent conversation and activities occurring in my classroom, and then being able to share that with colleagues.”
Horodyski said the focus on helping each other continually improve teaching for the sake of learners inevitably results in improved results.
“This type of shared learning experience empowers educators, and empowered educators equal empowered students,” she said. “There’s a ripple effect that influences beyond what will ever be known to us.”
Wilcox said the National Board has very clear definitions of what it means to be a master teacher, and he has that in mind as he embarks on his year as Michigan Teacher of the Year.
” I am now very familiar with the qualities and actions that make teachers great, and I will use this framework to guide my work,” Wilcox said. “I will encourage other great teachers to consider going after this certification in order to push them forward.”
Candidates will now become ambassadors for the Michigan Department of Education, working as teacher leaders in their field.
“It has improved my teaching by getting me to open up to my students about why I do the things I’m doing in the classroom, and verbalizing it to them so that they can understand it,” VanderGalien said. “I think that helps them to buy into the process of what is going on in the classroom.
“They also appreciate the fact that I am working hard to be the best teacher I can be for them.”
The Wyoming Concerts in the Park continue on Tuesday, June 20, with the Tejano Sound Band stepping on the Lamar Park stage at 7 p.m.
“We are looking forward to being there,” said Mark Garcia who is a member of the group and serves as its general manager during a recent phone call. “We know it is a Tuesday, but it will be a lot fun and we plan to provide some good music.”
Tejano music is a style of folk or popular music originating among the Mexican-American populations of Central and Southern Texas. With roots in the late 19th century, it became a music genre with a wider audience in the late 20th century due to such artists as Selana, who was often referred to as The Queen of Tejeno.
Originally based in Lansing, the Tejano Sound Band was founded by brothers Johnny and Richard Vasquez and brother-in-law Frank Medellin in 1994. The group was quickly embraced by the public and became well-known for its stage presence, hi-tech sound and light show. The band has shared the stage with many artists and bands from Texas and across the country.
Today the band consists of Richard and Johnny Vasquez along with Lupe Moreno, AJ Garcia, Bobby Gonzalez, Rolando Revilla, Michael Hiemstra, and Mark Garcia. The group won Vocal Duo of the Year for the 2013 Tejano Music Award for “Pos El Amor de USA Mujer” featuring Ricky Valenz. The Tejano Sound Band is currently working on its fourth album and has recently released a couple of songs from that album.
The rest of the Concerts in the Park series includes the popular WY-FI celebration which includes fireworks and features two bands, the Sweet J Band and the Brena Band on June 27. The program takes a break over the week of July 4 and then continues with country group Michatucky July 11 followed by a night of sixties music with The 6 Pak. July 25 is the Beatles tribute band Toppermost with the series wrapping up on Aug. 1 with its National Night Out programing featuring the group Union Guns.
For more information on Wyoming’s Concerts in the Park visit wyomingcec.org.
Lazevious Steele sat snugly in a barber chair as Duane Bacchus used a razor to perfect his fade. The next day, Lazevious and other seniors walked across the stage sporting fresh haircuts to receive their high school diplomas.
Bacchus, a Kent School Services Network community coordinator, had opened the high school’s new barbershop — inside the men’s dressing room attached to the high school auditorium — for the first time the day before graduation, sprucing up seniors with free haircuts before their big send-off.
Next school year he plans to open twice weekly for boys to come in for a trim, and to participate in the ages-old style of barbershop banter that occurs when men gather for haircuts. Bacchus, whose job is to connect students and families with resources, has always included his own style of conversation and counseling in his duties. With the shop he’s adding a cool spin on how he serves Godwin Heights: a “neighborhood” barber where all are welcome, just like those he is used to.
“The barbershop has always been a place where nothing is off limits,” said Bacchus, who remembers “dying of laughter” from the conversations he heard in barbershops as a child. “There was a lot of wisdom and honest talk.”
Bacchus, who cut friends’ hair in college for money, said he already regularly cuts several of his students’ hair. He had the idea of opening an in-school barbershop as a way to incentivize good behavior and build relationships.
With full support from the administration, he recruited his own barber, Chris Turner, from Ace of Fades in Grand Rapids, and another local barber, Miguel Estilo, who works at Maily’s Beauty Salon, to volunteer. Masonic Grand Rapids Lodge No. 34 donated three barber chairs.
Bacchus said he hopes to get more barbers to offer services, as well as a stylist for girls to get their makeup, nails and hair done for dances and special events.
“A haircut means so much to a kid in terms of confidence and your outlook on life,” he said. “You feel better about yourself, and it tends to make everything else easier.”
Turner’s also on board with helping students feel good and building up their self-esteem. “For some reason, people open up in a barbershop. It’s kind of reminiscent of a counselor. I listen and give feedback. Mostly, that’s what people need.”
‘Makes Me Feel Loved’
While Bacchus added the finishing touches to his hair, Lazevious reflected on how it felt to have someone care enough to give him a free haircut before graduation.
“It makes me feel loved and cared about,” he said. “I know Mr. Bacchus is a good barber. For him to take time out of his day to do this, it really means a lot to me.”
Part of his job is developing trust, Bacchus said.
“To sit down and have somebody take machines and run them through your hair, there has to be established trust,” Bacchus quipped. “That trust goes across the board. If you trust them to cut your hair, you trust them enough to talk to them as well.
“For me this project kind of embodies what KSSN is, making the school the center point of a kids’ life scholastically, bringing them community.”
Kent School Services Network is a countywide program that brings social and medical services to students’ schools and homes. It is run through a partnership with local districts and Kent ISD.
As they hung around the shop, students chatted.
“He’s a friend,” senior Gregory Sloan said of Bacchus. “He’s there if you need someone to talk to.”
“I don’t have to go to graduation with all this wild stuff on my head,” said senior Cameron Gray, touching his hair.
“(A barbershop) is a good environment. I think it makes everybody bond,” said senior Jamail Clark.
Next school year, students will be able to buy haircuts with Godwin Bucks, earned for good behavior through the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention Supports program.
The Wyoming City Council is taking its meeting on the road, heading to Lamar Park this Monday.
“This is the first time we’ve taken our council meetings on the road and we’re excited to provide an opportunity for residents to meet their council members in their own neighborhoods, while taking part in the local government process by attending one of the our council meetings,” said Assistant City Manager Megan Sall.
Mayor Jack Poll, Mayor Pro Ten Sam Bolt, and Council Members William VerHulst, Marissa Postler, Robert Postema, Dan Burrill, and Kent Vanderwood and city officials are scheduled to be at the park around 6 p.m. Ice cream also will be served at that time. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. with it being broadcast live on WKTV Channel 26.
“Our council members are excited to expand the physical walls of our council chamber to encompass the whole City,” Sall said. “They look forward to meeting residents, visiting different neighborhoods, and hearing about the issues tat affect our community the most.”
Lamar Park is located at 2561 Porter St. SW, near the corner of Byron Center Avenue and Porter Street. In the event of inclement weather, the meeting will be at City Hall, located at 1155 28th St. SW.
The official agenda for the Monday meeting will be announced here later this week.
Exalta Health is a south Division Avenue based healthcare provider for low income residents of Wyoming, Kentwood and south Grand Rapids — serving patients who “have no place else to go,” the organization likes to say.
“There is a saying in health care that the best predictor of you heath is not your genetic code but you zip code,” President Bill Paxton said during a recent taping of WKTV Journal’s new “In Focus” public affairs program. “What we know is where people live is often reflective of their access to good health care services. It is really reflective of socio-economic status.
“What we are seeing is that people who have less income, less revenue, have poor health and poor access to health care — and that is across the country. Both in rural areas and in urban areas such as Wyoming and Kentwood and Grand Rapids. … What we see is that people with lower income often have other barriers to health care — cultural barriers, language barriers, transportation barriers.”
Exalta works to break down those barriers to health care by providing “compassionate … quality … and accessible care” at its Clínica Centro, at 2060 Division Ave S, and its South Clinic at Streams of Hope, 280 60th Street SE.
We provide “mainly primary care, that’s medical care, trying to have patients have continuity care with the provider,” said Medical Director Dr. Laura Vander Molen. “We also have dental care — in the past we have separated dental care from medical care but now we are trying to see the patient as a whole person.”
Exalta has many care providers who either work or volunteer at their clinics, but it also works with community partners — including Spectrum Health, Mercy Health St. Mary’s, and Metro Health-University of Michigan Health — for speciality care services. But that sometimes leads to problems for patients.
“We work to get our patients in to see specialists if they need care beyond us,” Vander Molen said. “But when we send people out for speciality care, that tends to drive up the costs” and “becomes an insurance issue” for the patients.
“We (also) try to educate people on chronic diseases, so we do a class for people with diabetes. We also have behavioral health, which includes medical and social workers, and also counseling for our patients who may be struggling with behavioral health issues.”
Lastly, she said, there is spiritual support if needed and requested.
“We also have spiritual care. We feel that people are emotional, spiritual and physical, so we are trying to meet all those needs,” Vander Molen said.
While Exalta is proud that it is a religiously-motivated organization, Paxton makes clear they are more focused on serving the community than spreading the Gospel.
“We are a Christian organization, that is really our motivation for doing what we do,” Paxton said. But “overall, what we really want to see is a healthy community. Reflecting what we think the call is to us — as Christians, to do as Christ would do — to show compassion, and (provide) quality care. That is why we do what we do.”
For more information on Exalta Heath, call 616-475-8446 or visit exaltahealth.org.
David Britten remembers standing in the lunchroom at Lee Middle/High School. He was the new middle school principal after leaving an elementary-principal post at Wayland-Union Schools Schools in 2002. He looked around at the group of rowdy teenagers and thought, “What did I do? Why did I leave Wayland, where I enjoyed the job and the school and the kids?
“I didn’t understand the culture these kids come from,” he recalled. “I felt a little panicky about it.”
But Britten didn’t run away. He attached himself to the class of 2008, seventh-graders at the time, whom he called a group of funny “pain in the rears.” Among them was the first undocumented immigrant student Britten had ever been aware of in his school — a bright, high-achieving girl who already worried she wouldn’t be able to attend college.
“That group helped me understand better what was going on,” he said.
Bonds began to grow between the retired Army officer-turned-principal and students who at first expected his style of discipline to include pushups and laps.
“Within no time I was like, ‘I wouldn’t change these kids for the world.'”
Instead, Britten has spent the past 15 years working to change the world for them — and to help them, one day, change the world.
Britten, 62, is a paradox. One moment he says he doesn’t like people, yet he’s thrown himself full-throttle into a career of helping improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in Kent County. He loves technology, saying he prefers to do things in anonymity on a computer, and he plans to spend a lot of time with a new robot he’s ordered. But he looks giddy at the idea of bringing his robot in to show students.
He’s admittedly cynical, but has paved the way in reforming education in his district from the ground up while shedding light on the positives in the community.
He’s a military man whose own life was shaped by the regimen and discipline of serving his country, but he is a true Lee Rebel at heart.
Where He Was Supposed to Be
Britten is stepping down June 30 after nine years as superintendent and a total of 15 years working in the district. The Board of Education recently hired Kevin Polston, principal of Lakeshore Middle School in Grand Haven Public Schools, as new superintendent, beginning July 1.
Britten has spent many days, from dawn to dusk, leading teachers in a way that builds community, and battling state and national policy he believes is increasing inequity in education. He is present in the school buildings and athletic fields attending student programs and events on days, nights and weekends.
The demands have taken a toll on his energy and fitness, but he said he never wanted to give less for the students. Until his last day on the job, he wants to be there.
“I feel like that’s where I’m supposed to be. If I’m not there to do that, why did I choose this career?”
Lee High School civics teacher Brian Cahoon said Britten’s involvement has even extended to cooking for students at band camp and helping to chaperone 30-plus seniors on their senior trip to Florida.
“I believe Dave has touched the district by his dedication to, not only his job, but the Lee community as a whole,” Cahoon said. “I think one would be hard-pressed to find a superintendent who is as visible, and often an active participant in a wide range of student activities.”
Lee High School science teacher Steve Rierson provided a short list of Britten’s typical activities: “On any given day, Mr. Britten can be observed eating with kids, walking through hallways, subbing in classrooms, attending sporting events, interacting with parents and faculty throughout the district, even traveling to Lansing in hopes of changing policy at the state level.”
A Hometown Boy
Britten, who lives in Cutlerville, spent several childhood years in the Godfrey-Lee community, frequenting neighborhood stores and playing in the woodsy area near the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center (where he and his staff have recently opened an outdoor learning lab.) He knows the area’s nooks and crannies, the stories of each building and street, the background of the schools and the people who have impacted them over the decades.
“I’m a homeboy who likes local history,” he said.
With more time on his hands, he plans to immerse himself in that history by writing a book about the Godfrey-Lee community. An outspoken advocate for social justice, he also plans to study and speak out against issues affecting the country and areas like Godfrey-Lee: the growing economic gap, segregation and political gerrymandering.
He plans to visit relatives he hasn’t seen in decades and, if all else fails, simply enjoy time with his wife, Penny, whose hobbies include photography and horseback riding.
“If I just carry her camera and saddle around for the rest of my life, that’s fine. I owe her.”
Britten has played a big role in the district during a pivotal era in its history. During his time as superintendent, Godfrey-Lee has grown from 1,600 to nearly 2,000 students, with its Hispanic population increasing from 32 to 78 percent. In the once solid blue-collar neighborhood where many residents worked at General Motors, more than 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.
Britten offers some historical reference: The district dipped to around 850 students in the ’90s as the community aged. After 2000, many immigrant families began moving in with large families and establishing roots.
For them, Britten and his staff work hard to make the schools the center of the community.
“One of the things I like about this community, and which seems to have increased since I’ve been here, is there seems to be a growing interest in the community from the community members,” he said, noting the draw of affordable housing, new neighborhood groups and a decrease in transiency. “This is Wyoming’s only true walkable community.
“We are interested in the community being a part of us,” he added. “If we are strong the community is strong.”
Pushing for Education Reform
His tenure has also been a time of school funding challenges, increased high-stakes testing, and other threats to public education. For these things and many more, Britten has been an outspoken advocate for improving education by getting to the root of problems. He never holds back in calling out bad policy or politicians who seem to have interests other than children in mind.
“If we are only focused on the test scores,” he asserted, “we have already lost the war.”
To improve his district, Britten embarked on a huge human-centered design project, sealing a $250,000 Steelcase grant, to study the true — as opposed to perceived — needs of families in the district. The end goal is education reform, getting students away from the 20th-century education model, truly engaged in their learning and preparing them for jobs of the future with the necessary skills. The work will continue under Polston.
“Dave has never strayed far from the needs of the community,” said Lee Middle High School science teacher Vlad Borza. “Despite the educational woes and rigors of the state requirements, he has remained an advocate for the needs of our community and bringing equity to a district in need of extra support.
“He is unapologetic in fighting for the needs of students and families, whether it is by pursuing a competitive technology program or advocating for the legal protection of those in our district. It is evident that his focus has always remained on their needs.”
From Factory Worker to U.S. Army Officer to Educator
Britten was born in Grand Rapids, the second of seven siblings. At age 4, he moved to a new Wyoming subdivision at 36th Street and Burlingame Avenue SW. In kindergarten, he attended East Newhall Elementary (later East Elementary School, in Wyoming Public Schools) before going to Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in first grade, when his family moved to the Godfrey-Lee area.
He attended Godfrey-Lee schools through his freshman year when he moved back to the Wyoming Public Schools neighborhood, where he attended Rogers High School until he graduated in 1973.
He enrolled in Grand Valley State University and worked at Keebler Company, eventually dropping out of college until he was laid off from the factory job. One day in 1974 he and a friend, on a whim, decided to enlist in the National Guard. His friend wasn’t accepted, but Britten was.
He was called back to Keebler and worked there while also serving as a reservist. By 1977 he noticed a lot of his Rogers High School classmates were graduating college. Britten was dissatisfied.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to do this factory stuff the rest of my life. … Standing there watching Pop-Tarts come out of a cutter all night long was just not what I want to do.”
He re-enrolled at GVSU, and recognized Penny, who had attended Godfrey-Lee, during his first day of class. He “stalked her for two days” before she asked him what he wanted. He wanted a date, and the rest is history. They married in 1980 and have one son, David.
After earning an education degree, Britten began teaching at Muskegon Catholic Central High School, but he began an active duty tour two years later. That was the beginning of a military career, from which he retired in 1996. While in the service, he earned a degree in educational leadership.
Lured Back by Schools
Soon after retiring, he was asked to apply for the elementary principal position in Wayland and got the job. Six years later he was asked to apply for the Lee Middle School principal position. He was tapped for the superintendent position in 2008, a time of turmoil in the district, when there was poor morale between the administration and staff. Britten didn’t want the job, but feared no one else would step up that could rebuild trust.
Britten has spent the last days of the school year with students, watching them play during field day; checking out high school seniors’ capstone projects on careers they are interested in; riding the Millennium Force roller coaster at Cedar Point amusement park with band students; attending a community event led by Blandford Nature Center focused on increasing the owl population. As always, where students and staff gather, he’s there.
He’s a voice, a presence, a fighter for what Godfrey-Lee students need to be successful in the country he served.
Just a hometown boy who likes history.
Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.
There was a classroom full of kids playing outdoors of the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center building Thursday, June 8, as the school district held the grand opening of its new Outdoor Learning Lab.
The adults present — including the incoming superintendents of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools — spoke about the “educational” advantages of the facility. The kids? They just liked being able to climb on things and roll down a hill and dig in the sand.
And that is just the way the two teachers who spearheaded the project — Debbie Schuitema and Julie Swanson — wants it: an outdoor education opportunity that looks a lot like play.
“Students are naturally curious, and when you bring them out here, without books, when you take a way some of the parameters, and rules and procedures, you allow them to be creative, curious and intuitive,” Schuitema, who teaches math at the center, said to WKTV. “The things they come up with is just amazing, and that leads to more learning. You can take that back inside and build on that.”
The facility, located to the east side of the Early Childhood Center (ECC) building at 961 Joosten SW in Wyoming, includes mostly natural objects which kids can explore and play with: a tree stump, a stone and sand structure, a grassy hill.
And Swanson, a physical education instructor at the center, knows the value of outdoor exercise as part of a student’s educational process.
“Discover yourself through play,” Swanson said. “Just something as simple as which way to you hold a big branch, little side up or big side up? They are learning engineering skills, math skills. … They learn gravity by rolling down a hill. … Really just discovering a new way to learn, but they don’t know they are learning. … (We are just) removing the walls.”
The grand opening event featured permanent and temporary activities such as a mud kitchen, rock grotto, climbing hill, landscape berm, covered gathering space/stage, dead tree stands, Congo drums, weaving loom and log steps.
But the most important things the facility brings is the ability just to be outdoors, according to soon-to-retire district superintendent David Britten, who was present at the event along with the incoming new superintendent Kevin Polston.
“Kids today are spending far too much time indoors — it is a criticism of education in general. We are far too focused on content learning and memorization and test taking,” said Britten, who was a big supporter of the project. “We have lost some of these outdoor areas, places for kids to play in.
“So, as I walked along here a few years back, looking for historical artifacts, I thought: What a great place to have kids come out on a regular basis, and learn,” he said. “Find what native plant species that are here, what are invasive; what kind of birds and animals live in this environment. How can we make it better for them? How can we keep plaster creek clean? How can we protect the environment itself, so we can all enjoy it.”
Aside from the support of the superintendent, other supporters thanked at the facility opening include Women Who Care Grand Rapids, City of Wyoming Public Works, Dykema Excavators, DeWitt Landscape and Design, TonTin Lumber and The Stone Zone.
Special thanks were also given to East Lee students, Lee Middle School students, the Plaster Creek Watershed, Groundswell and — especially — the Godfrey Lee Board of Education.
“So many different people donated their time and energy to this,” said Swanson. “The Godfrey-Lee board of education, allowing us to do this without strings attached — that allowed us to be so creative. We really want to thank our board and our superintendent.”
Local high school graduate Jared Veldheer, now a player for the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals, will return to the area to host the Metro Health – University of Michigan Health’s Jared Veldheer Football Camp.
The camp will be held Tuesday, June 27 from 5:30-8 p.m., at Grand Rapids Christian High School Stadium, 2300 Plymouth Avenue, SE. The cost is $20 per student, and is open to students from third through eighth grade.
Veldheer is a team co-captain and left tackle for the Cardinals. In 2014, he was the team MVP. He is a Hillsdale College 2-time All-American and a Forest Hills Northern graduate.
At the camp, Veldheer teams up with area football coaches and Metro Health – University of Michigan Health Sports Medicine for the night of instruction.
“I’m excited to get back to Grand Rapids for another year of this football camp,” Veldheer said. “It is exciting to teach young athletes who have a passion for sports and are eager to learn. More importantly, I’m excited to share my message about playing multiple sports, eating healthy, and being a team player. My goal is to encourage all student athletes to ‘Stay in the Game’.” All proceeds from the camp go to the Keeping the Beat Program.
Dr. Ed Kornoelje, sports medicine medical director for Metro Health – University of Michigan Health will discuss with parents and athletes sports injury prevention.
“Athletics provide a great opportunity for students to learn many skills outside of just their sport,” Kornoelje said. “It is important for all student athletes, and their parents, to understand what it takes to be a healthy athlete. This camp provides a great platform to discuss these items.”
In additional to the on field practice, Veldheer will share his personal message on the drive, focus and discipline it has taken to be one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL.
All participants registered by June 27 will receive a free T-shirt and an autographed book “Stay in the Game — Jared Veldheer’s Journey to the NFL”.
The Wyoming Concerts in the Park continues tonight with a Ladies Night program featuring Kalamazoo-based country group Shelagh Brown Band.
The concert is at 7 p.m. at Lamar Park, 2561 Porter St. SW. Shelagh Brown will perform country favorites as well as her own highly acclaimed music with her six-piece band. “Ladies Night” means any lady who attends will be recognized with fun gifts.
Coming from a musical family, Brown always had a musical interest performing in choirs since third grade. She did not decide to go into music until she attended Michigan State University and then later transferred to Western Michigan University to pursue musical theater and is where she discovered country music.
At tonight’s concert, Brown will perform country tunes from Loretta to Carrie along wth showcasing her own songwriting through her tunes including “Sunflower,” “Friend in You,” and “Best for Me” to name just a few, currently available on iTunes!
The Concerts in the Park are every Tuesday evening through Aug. 1 at Lamar Park.
In the library of Harrison Park School, Ryan Rose read aloud from a book about African animals as a dozen students listened expectantly.
“We all went on a safari, past an old Acadia tree,” Rose read. “Nearby, giraffes were grazing. Caleb counted three.”
The children broke into screams of laughter and pointed at their classmate Caleb, the designated giraffe-spotter. They were learning about animals, but having plenty of fun as well.
This is the LOOP program, which serves about 3,000 children from Grand Rapids Public Schools with after-school learning, recreation and meals five days a week. Under the federal education budget proposed by President Donald Trump, it would be eliminated.
GRPS and other school districts in Kent ISD are responding with alarm to the proposed $9.2 billion in cuts to the U.S. Education Department budget, which is now being taken up by Congress. Among its many effects on local school districts, the 13.5-percent spending reduction would eliminate a $1.2 billion grant program for after-school and summer programming.
School leaders are speaking out against many of the proposed cuts, such as $2 billion in grants for teacher development as well as reductions in special-education funding. But of particular concern is cutting off funding for after-school and summer programs that serve some 6,500 students in Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming. More than $8 million was awarded this year to districts in those cities by the Michigan Department of Education, which administers the federal grants for the state.
“Just the mere fact the president has proposed such dramatic cuts to public education creates this level of uncertainty, at a time when we have finally stabilized our district,” said John Helmholdt, GRPS executive director of communications and external affairs. “It’s sending a signal that they’re disinvesting in public education, disinvesting in public school teachers, and that they don’t value after-school programming.”
Helmholdt and GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal last week met with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, telling the 3rd District congressman the proposed budget would cost GRPS more than $8 million. That includes nearly $4 million from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant for the LOOP program. Without replacement funding, that program would be eliminated, they said.
“We wouldn’t be able to do this” if federal funding is axed, said Irma Alicia Lopez, director of the LOOP program. “There’s no way.”
Earlier this year, the Grand Rapids Board of Education issued a statement that the proposed budget would have a “devastating impact” on the schools and community, asserting programs like LOOP and professional development for teachers are “increasing student achievement and helping more students graduate.”
Amash issued a statement saying it was great to hear of the “impressive progress” GRPS has made in recent years, and that he will “discuss these issues with my colleagues as Congress prepares its own budget and appropriations.”
Schools just south of Grand Rapids also would take a huge hit. The TEAM 21 after-school program serves 15 schools and over 2,000 K-8 students in the Wyoming, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights and Kelloggsville districts. It also offers a six-week, full-day summer program including academics and enrichment activities like field trips and exposure to careers.
TEAM 21 is funded entirely through the federal grant program with a budget of more than $2 million, employing 80 staff members during the school year and 100-plus in the summer.
“That money is never going to be able to be made up by local districts if it’s eliminated,” said Scott Bloem, TEAM 21 program director.
Bloem notes that in the districts it serves, 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. TEAM 21 provides students a dinner and snack along with transportation.
“I think it’s a shocking suggestion (that these programs could be cut) and I think a lot of people would agree with me,” Bloem said, adding the programs receive broad support from people regardless of political affiliation. “It’s really shocking news that this is even being discussed.”
Becki Barrenger, assistant project director for Kentwood Public Schools’ after-school and summer program ARCH, said the program is licensed to serve up to 1,500 students across 15 sites, though numbers fluctuate. It is funded completely by the 21st Century fund with three $675,000 grants, each serving five sites.
“I truly believe in this program and I believe it’s made a difference in the lives of our students and their families,” Barrenger said. “I want to see it in our community for years to come. I think it’s necessary and needed.”
Investment or Disinvestment?
Their perspective is far different from that of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who in announcing the budget called it a “historic investment in America’s students.” The West Michigan native touted it as returning decision-making to the states and more control to parents while providing more options for school choice, including $250 million to provide private-school vouchers and $167 million more for charter schools.
DeVos asserted the budget maintains support for vulnerable students but takes “a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven’t yielded the desired outcomes.” One of those, she argued, is the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which her budget outline said “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”
Local school and civic officials strongly disagree.
In Wyoming, Grand Rapids and elsewhere, the benefits of after-school and summer programs are multifaceted, officials say. Among them: a safe environment for youths who might otherwise be unsupervised; nurturing relationships with caring adults; extra academic help; and exposure to cultural experiences and possible career fields.
The programs’ worth is attested to by strong demand from parents, said Lynn Heemstra, executive director of Our Community’s Children, a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools and the community.
Heemstra works with after-school program providers as part of the ELO Network, a coalition of community stakeholders consisting of over 60 organizations serving over 21,000 children at 180 sites, to help after-school programs shape curriculum around academics and enrichment including exposure to careers. Many programs have more demand than space for students, she said.
“There continues to be waiting lists for students. As after-school programs become more tuned into science and math and those kinds of programs, there is greater demand.”
Programs such as LOOP, TEAM 21 and Kentwood’s ARCH provide a safe environment for many low-income students whose parents work two to three jobs, Heemstra said. “The majority of our kids, 99 percent, are not involved with the police and we know that for a fact.”
A 2014 report by the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University found a 44 percent drop in Grand Rapids juveniles involved in crime or curfew violations from 2006 to 2012. While many factors may have contributed, the report notes a major increase in after-school programming since 2001 aimed to make “a positive impact on the life trajectories of Grand Rapids’ children.”
Heemstra said students in after-school programs, especially African-American and Latino males, are doing better academically than those who aren’t, and all students have better school attendance than those not in programs. The ELO Network provides data on those trends, while Johnson Center research shows African-American students in after-school programs are 1.5 times more likely to meet or exceed growth expectations in math than non-participants, Heemstra said.
“If those programs are not there, the communities are going to see some repercussions,” she said.
In Wyoming, more than 90 percent of parents surveyed said their children are getting better grades and have better homework completion because of TEAM 21, and 97 percent say “staff know how to work with a child like mine,” Bloem said.
A Parent’s Perspective
Lisa and Jordan Wiseman’s twin daughters, fifth-grade Wyoming Intermediate School students Carmen and Cadia, have been attending TEAM 21’s after-school and summer programs for several years, beginning as Oriole Park Elementary students.
“At first it was something they could do that was fun during the summer,” Lisa Wiseman said. “Then, as they got older they needed a little help in certain areas, and it wasn’t difficult to convince them to go because they had been going and had fun.
“That worked for me because I was able to pick them up after I got out of work,” she added. “They would get help with their homework and it would be all done by the time I pick them up to take them home.”
It was particularly helpful this school year for Carmen while 10-year-old Cadia spent many days in the hospital receiving treatment for leukemia. “Carmen welcomed the distraction,” Wiseman said.
Cadia continues to recover, and both girls are enrolled in the summer program, partly because Cadia missed quite a bit of school, their mother said.
If TEAM 21 is eliminated, it would be “a huge loss” for many Wyoming families will be negatively impacted, Wiseman said.
“It gives the kids something to do in the summer. So many of these kids have parents who work during the day. They get breakfast and lunch (during the summer and dinner during the school year), which helps a lot of the lower-income families.”
Local and National Pushback
Heemstra’s office is working with the Michigan Afterschool Partnership to advocate for programs at the federal and local levels, and make sure the public is more aware of their importance by spreading the word. Our Community’s Children is also advocating for the State of Michigan to match the 21st Century grant funds, as well as tapping other potential funding sources.
Despite the uncertainty around the 21st Century program, the Michigan Department of Education plans to announce 2017-18 grant awards in the next few weeks, said spokesman William DiSessa.
At the national level, ASSA: The School Superintendents Association is lobbying against what it calls “deep, damaging cuts” in federal funding. After-school funding in particular has had broad, bipartisan support from Congress in the past, as a proven program to help provide structure, academic enrichment and social support in students’ lives, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate director for policy and advocacy. She noted some programs for older students include college guidance, mental-health counseling and teen pregnancy reduction.
“The neediest communities tend to be the poorest, meaning they’re disproportionately reliant on federal dollars,” Ellerson Ng said, adding that eliminating after-school funding “disproportionately impacts students who need it the most.”
She said the chances of the budget being approved by Congress in its current form are “next to none.” Indeed, during DeVos’ testimony this week before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Republican chairman Sen. Roy Blunt said deep cuts to programs such as after-school would be “all but impossible” to get through Congress.
However, Ellerson Ng said lawmakers must be held accountable based on what students need, not on this proposed budget: “We cannot allow a very flawed Trump proposal to become a baseline to measure anything realistic. Because the Trump budget is unrealistic.”
Impact is Academic… and Beyond
Back at Harrison Park School, students spent an afternoon earlier this semester doing lots of things, starting with an hour of help with homework. Fourth-graders split for the gym while younger students did crafts centered on African cultural studies: making necklaces in the style of the Masai people, or painting African thumb pianos. Fifth- and sixth-graders created bright, splashy paintings using a pendulum.
They were supervised by staff from the YMCA, one of three partner agencies that run LOOP programs at about 30 GRPS schools. Others are United Methodist Community House and Camp Fire West Michigan 4C (see related story).
A big plus for these students is the friendships and relationships they build, said Lopez, who’s directed LOOP for five years.
“If they’re not in sports, they have something they’re attached to,” she said. “Parents are always so grateful, because they see the students more outgoing, more interested in coming to school. I think the interest in coming to school and having better attendance is because they are building those relationships and are more social.”
That spills over into academic gains in the classroom and fewer chronic absences, she added.
Ryan Rose, the site coordinator, says LOOP creates a supportive atmosphere.
“They’re with people who care about them, and they feel safe and it’s fun,” Rose said. “It motivates them to want to come to school, because they know they’re a part of LOOP, and then they engage throughout the school day.”
At the end of the afternoon, students would take home snacks provided by Kids’ Food Basket; middle school students get hot meals provided by the YMCA.
All told it was a full afternoon for students, of the kind Lopez hopes will be able to continue. If not, she doesn’t know what parents would do who can’t afford child care, or what students would do without the structure of LOOP.
“What are they going to do after school, if there’s no funding?” she said. “It would be a huge loss for the kids, and for the families.”
Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.
The Wyoming Department of Public Safety and the Kentwood Police Department are together reminding the public to secure their vehicles when left unattended. Both agencies report several larcenies from vehicles in different neighborhoods between May 30 and June 7. The larcenies occurred between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m. In Kentwood the thefts occurred around the area of Princeton Estates and the surrounding neighborhood. In Wyoming, the thefts occurred in the Chateau Hills neighborhood and in the neighborhood along Valleyridge Avenue SW.
Reports indicate that the suspect looked for unlocked cars that were parked on the street, in driveways, and in open garages. The suspect took cash, new or high-end electronics, and medication. Many cars were ransacked with no items taken.
Multiple reports indicate that the suspect is a male of slim build, and an approximate height of 5’10”. In some reports it is mentioned that the suspect may have been carrying a red backpack or riding a bicycle.
Both Departments want to remind the public of these simple safety tips to keep your valuables safe:
First and foremost, lock your vehicle when it is left unattended
Hide or keep valuables out of sight
Remove portable electronic devices such as smart phones and GPS navigation systems Please report suspicious activity when it is occurring
The Departments will continue with their investigations. Anyone with information in regards to these larcenies are asked to contact the either the Wyoming Department of Public Safety at 616-530-7300, the Kentwood Police Department at 616.698.6580, or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.
The Board of Education has selected Kevin Polston, principal of Lakeshore Middle School, in Grand Haven Public Schools, as its new superintendent.
The board plans to negotiate a contract with Polston, with his first day on the job expected July 1.
“I’m really excited and grateful,” said Polston, 39. “When I looked at Godfrey-Lee the thing that jumped out was the culture and commitment to supporting families.”
Polston has served as Lakeshore Middle School principal since 2011 and as assistant principal there for two years before that. He received his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies – human resources and secondary social studies education at Michigan State University, and his master’s in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University. He has also worked as a curriculum specialist and social studies teacher in Grand Haven Public Schools.
“Godfrey-Lee schools really serve the community and that’s been a central focus of my philosophy in education,” he said of the small, majority Hispanic district in Wyoming.
Polston will replace nine-year Superintendent David Britten, who will step down June 30.
“Kevin Polston brings a lot of really good experience in the kind of work he’s been doing,” said Board of Education President Eric Mockerman. “He expressed excitement about the initiatives we’ve been doing in the district.”
Polston, whose mother was an immigrant from Palestine, said he has always embraced diversity in education.
“A passion of mine has been working with our staff on climate and diversity and being an advocate for persons of color,” he said.
He is the second educator selected for the position. In March, Carlos Lopez, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, in Plymouth, declined an offer for the job.
Polston was selected from a second pool including three other finalists:
Scott Riley, superintendent of Camden-Frontier Schools, in Camden;
Coby Fletcher, principal at East Lansing High School;
Michael Pascoe, principal of City High/Middle School and Center for Economicology in Grand Rapids Public Schools. Pascoe was also interviewed as one of two final candidates.
Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.
VoiceGR, Grand Rapids’ community survey, is expanding to become countywide thanks to a new partnership between the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University and the Kent County Health Department (KCHD). As VoiceKent, the survey will gather critical public health information from all areas of Kent County’s more than 600,000 residents.
The larger data collection area means that more valuable information will be available to community partners and nonprofits seeking to learn about the needs of Kent County’s many diverse communities beyond the Grand Rapids area.
“This partnership with the Kent County Health Department allows us to expand the data-collection area of the survey and explore public health with greater depth, as well as increase the usefulness of the survey within our community,” said Jodi Petersen, director of the Johnson Center’s Community Research Institute (CRI) which conducts the survey each year. “This year’s survey results will build upon previous years’ data and provide access to more information for local stakeholders to inform their decision making.”
The survey, which collects responses from June-October, connects demographics with the opinions, attitudes and perceptions of Kent County residents on topics such as employment, education, racism and discrimination, ability to meet basic needs, access to health care and neighborhood safety. The data gathered from the survey will help create a baseline for conversations on these important community issues.
“This is a large, community-wide effort that will involve the participation of many Kent County agencies,” said Chelsey Saari, public health programs supervisor for the Kent County Health Department. “The KCHD and Healthy Kent are excited to partner with the Johnson Center on this project.”
By partnering with the Kent County Health Department and Healthy Kent, the Johnson Center hopes to increase the number of collected responses to more than 6,000.
Survey results will be released in spring 2018 and will help neighborhood associations, schools, nonprofits, funders, local government and businesses better plan their programming.
The survey is available online at www.VoiceKent.org and is open to all residents who live, work, or do business in Kent County.
The survey, originally called the Greater Grand Rapids Community Survey, began in 2001 as a phone survey to the owners of 500 randomly selected landline telephone numbers in the city of Grand Rapids. The methodology was revised in 2013, and the survey, renamed VoiceGR, grew to collect responses from more than 3,000 Grand Rapids area residents through a combination of paper and online surveys.
Healthy Kent is a collaborative effort to identify and address public health issues with the goal of improving community health through community action.
Senior D’Nyszha Brand was accepted into six colleges: Baker College, Ferris State University, Wayne State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Aquinas College and Western Michigan University.
She’s decided to attend GRCC for her associate degree before transferring to a university, maybe Ferris, to major in business and minor in psychology. “It’s the cheapest way to go and I will save more money,” she said.
D’Nyszha said she probably wouldn’t have applied to so many colleges, or realized how to meet her postsecondary goals, if it weren’t for the Michigan College Access Network representative who helped her. Jeremy Bissett had an office at Godwin Heights for 20 hours a week until mid-spring, helping students apply, submit and complete all the other paperwork to get into college.
“It was very helpful because I would go to my mom and ask her what to do and she would say, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know,'” said D’Nyszha, who will be the first person in her family to go to college.
Bissett reminded her often about deadlines and what was required. “He helped me in so many ways. Not only did he help me with my (college) stuff, he taught me different life skills,” she said. Without him, she added, “I probably would have only applied to GRCC, honestly.”
Accepted, Again and Again
At Godwin Heights, students recently gathered in the hallway wearing #accepted T-shirts to celebrate their “yes” notifications. A total of 111 of the 137 seniors, or 81 percent, were accepted at 27 colleges.
That’s a great start for students at Godwin Heights, where more than 80 percent come from financially disadvantaged families and 59 percent of seniors this year could be first-generation college-goers.
Godwin Heights received an Innovative Program Grant from MCAN to fund a dedicated college adviser, Bissett. It’s just one way the network supports Michigan schools in helping students access college.
“We are super proud of Godwin’s results,” said Sarah Anthony, MCAN deputy director for partnerships and advocacy. “We knew being in that community would be serving low-income, first-generation college students and students of color.”
The goal of Lansing-based MCAN is to increase the percentage of Michigan residents with degrees or postsecondary certificates to 60 percent by the year 2025. According to 2014 Census figures, 39.3 percent of Michigan’s 5.2 million working-age adults (ages 25-64) hold a two- or four-year college degree, an increase from the previous year’s rate of 38.4 percent. This is the sixth year in a row that Michigan’s degree attainment rate has increased.
But there’s work to be done. According to data from MCAN, out of every 100 ninth-graders in Michigan, 73 graduate from high school on time; 45 enroll into postsecondary education within 12 months of graduation; 32 persist from their first to their second year; and 18 graduate with a degree within six years.
According to Mischooldata.org, within six months of graduation, 55.8 percent of 2016 Godwin Heights grads were enrolled in a two- or four-year college or university.
Building a College-Prep Culture
Bissett spent much of his time meeting with students, ensuring they were on track with the application process and walking them through applications for financial aid.
“The biggest benefit I see with the MCAN partnership has been the one-on-one time,” said counselor Tish Stevenson. “An adult sitting down one-on-one is immensely important.”
Bissett said he was just a piece of the puzzle. At Godwin Heights, there’s a multi-pronged effort to prepare students. It includes college visits; work to improve literacy across all content areas; and preparing students for the workforce or college by developing communication and collaboration skills. Staff provides many opportunities to meet college representatives right at school.
“It’s putting that option in their purview,” said counselor Kristi Bonilla. “We get them in tangible contact with people and places.”
“I think they are establishing a culture there that is college prep, and are getting more students wanting to be engaged in that,” Bissett said. “They are doing great work.”
After being added to the state’s Priority Schools list in 2012, Godwin Heights also put many measures in place to boost achievement. In 2016, the high school received a five-year School Improvement Grant, approved by the Michigan Department of Education, that will include allocations of $750,000 a year for the first three years and $500,000 a year for the final two.
The work is paying off. The school was removed this year from the state’s Priority Schools list, and has climbed from a 0 percentile rank in 2012-2013 to a 27th percentile rank in 2015-2016.
Said high school data coach Kristin Haga, “We are moving in the right direction.”
Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.